Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009 NHL Playoffs Round I Western Conference

Ah, the wild, wild, wild West. We'll call anybody who said that they predicted these matchups before the season liars.

Series E: San Jose Sharks (53-29; 117 points; 1st Pacific Division, 1st Western Conference, 1st Overall) vs. Anaheim Thug Ducks (42-40; 91 points; 2nd Pacific Division, 8th Western Conference, 17th Overall):

Perennial playoff underachievers, the San Jose Sharks have one final chance to get over the hump before everybody stops taking them seriously. We stopped taking them seriously when they signed Jeremy Roenick. Gone is Head Coach Ron Wilson who was replaced by Todd McLellan and in comes Claude Lemiuex to provide even more veteran leadership. We guess somebody out there finally figured out that Jeremy Roenick has never won anything in the NHL. The Sharks get fellow Californians the Anaheim Thug Ducks. Anaheim of course is on their last gasp with just 13 players under contract for next season and not much cap room to work with. We counted the Thug Ducks out as well but the fact that they made it in says something about their character. Do they have enough left in the tank for one more deep run before the rebuilding has to start? This is another series where the price of winning may be your ability to advance later in the playoffs. San Jose posted the best record in the regular season for a good reason, they were the best team in the NHL during the regular season. But the playoffs are a different story and the Sharks are poised to be knocked off early. Thug Ducks in five.

Series F: Detroit Red Wings (51-31; 112 points; 1st Central Division, 2nd Western Conference, 3rd Overall) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (41-41; 92 points; 4th Central Division, 7th Western Conference, 16th Overall):

Poor, poor Columbus. They finally break through and make the playoffs for the first time and they end up drawing the Detroit Red Wings. At least the travel schedule won't be too rough, but even that plays into the hands of the much older Red Wings. The Red Wings weren't able to fatten up on a weak division this year like they normally do. There was a point time when it looked as if the Central Division would send all five teams to the playoffs. But that didn't happen and the Red Wings are also finally looking at their last hurrah because of the salary cap. While Columbus goaltender Steve Mason was very impressive as a rookie this season and he will have to continue that in the playoffs for Columbus to even have a chance. He was 3-2 against Detroit this season with a 2.38 and .930 save percentage. Mason however, like the rest of the Blue Jackets, will get a playoff baptism by fire against the Red Wings. Their only hope is that Chris Osgood continues to melt and that Ty Conklin can't pick up the pieces the way Osgood did last year when Domink Hasek broke down. We happen to think that Detroit's goaltending will eventually cost them in the playoffs, just not in this series. Red Wings in four.

Series G: Vancouver Canucks (45-37; 100 points; 1st Northwest Division, 3rd Western Conference, 7th Overall) vs. St. Louis Blues (41-41; 92 points; 3rd Central Division, 6th Western Conference, 15th Overall):

The other Mason playing goal in the Central Division, Chris Mason, will look to continue his stellar play and hope that his 1-4 playoff record won't come back to haunt him as he faces Roberto Luongo who is making only his second appearance in the NHL Playoffs at the other end himself. Neither team was expected to be in their respective positions come playoff time, Vancouver made up a 13 point deficit on the Calgary Flames to win the Northwest Division while St. Louis went on a run similar to what the Caps did last year, coming from last in the Western Conference to make the playoffs. What makes it even more impressive is the key injuries the Blues have overcome to make it into the playoffs. Vancouver won the Mats Sundin sweepstakes and he will need to produce on the second line in order for Vancouver to advance deep into the playoffs. We all know how the Caps ran out of gas last year in the playoffs after their big run to make it into the playoffs, we can see the same thing happening here to the Blues. Canucks in five.

Series H: Chicago Blackhawks (46-36; 104 points; 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference, 6th Overall) vs. Calgary Flames (46-36; 98 points; 2nd Northwest Division, 5th Western Conference, 10th Overall):

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks who have completed their Original Six Rehabilitation Program (next up, Toronto) and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Now that they're in, everybody is saying that this series is already over and Chicago has won it. Calgary shouldn't even bother getting on the plane to Chicago for Thursday's Game 1. Calgary choked away the Northwest Division title and home ice advantage in the first round. Calgary is dealing with serious injuries to key players and have been running on fumes for the last two weeks. However, the salary cap is out the window and the Flames can actually dress a full lineup of players with AHL call ups filling in the gaps. The minor leaguers cannot possibly replace some of the talent the Flames are missing right now but they will at least bring new life and energy into the locker room. Furthermore, if anybody thinks that Mike Keenan is going to go down with a whimper, they better think again. Outside of Nikolai Khabibulin, the Hawks are pretty thin on playoff experience. Calgary on the other hand, still has the core of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals team pretty much intact. Will it be enough for Calgary to shock all the pundits and win the series? No, but it will be enough to put a scare into Chicago, Hawks in seven.



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