Chicago (1) vs. Minnesota (8)
On paper and on the ice this should be a short series. The Hawks won the Presidents’ Trophy, while the Wild won its last regular season game to edge Columbus for the last playoff spot on ROW.
Chicago boasts the top offense in the west and led the NHL in goals-against average. Minnesota is without Dany Heatley and ended up 22nd in goals-scored. In goal the Wild have Nik Backstrom who won a whopping 24 games this season and can win games on his own but not likely four out of seven against this Chicago team.
Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews leads a very deep and seemingly focused team that will likely be in for its first real test in the second round. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are the highest profile names on a Wild team that’s still building for its best days.
Best guess: Hawks in five
Anaheim (2) vs. Detroit (7)
The Ducks have quietly impressed this season finishing third in the NHL in wins and points, while the Wings finished strong to stretch the franchise playoff streak to 22 years. But with all due respect to the Wings who are a first-class operation, Anaheim appears too deep to be upset in round one.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry led the Ducks with 15 goals apiece, but there’s Selanne, Ryan and more behind them.
Beyond the Ducks skill up-front, they’ve got the size to wear the Wings down and the d-corps is skilled physically too.
Detroit got a third of its goals from Pavel Datsuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johann Franzen, which means they’re not as balanced as their opponents and not as physical either.
The Ducks have good goaltending from Viktor Fasth and Johas Hiller and should be fine in net. Jimmy Howard only allowed more than two goals in a game once in his last 11 games played and is very solid.
Best guess: Ducks in six
Vancouver (3) vs. San Jose (6)
These clubs met in the Western Final two years ago, and the Canucks got through it in five games — don’t see this one being that short.
Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said rivalries are built through playoff matchups and that’s true in this case with plenty of emotion between these teams.
Vancouver managed only one point in three regular season games against the Sharks this season, but the teams did play two one-goal games. And they’ve only met once since the trade deadline when both teams made big moves (for example, Derek Roy to VAN and SJ clearing out vets Murray, Clowe and Handzus) so it isn’t easy to gauge how they’ll be head-to-head.
Cory Schneider is the Canuck’s starter but hasn’t been healthy while Antti Niemi has been outstanding and the workhorse for the Sharks — still I don’t see either team with an edge in goal.
The bottom-line seems to be these are elite teams than haven’t won it all under coaches Alain Vigneault and Todd McLellan so the heat is on. Who will respond to the first hurdle?
Best guess: Canucks in six
St. Louis (4) vs. Los Angeles (5)
Wow, this is what’s so brutal about the fourth-versus-fifth matchup! You’ve got two very good teams meeting in the first round, and this one just happens to feature the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Darryl Sutter and Ken Hitchcock both know their way around a bench and the psychological warfare that comes with the post-season.
You can count on two talented, and "weighty" teams to go at it with real intensity.
Also, like Vancouver/San Jose — there’s some history between these two with the Kings sweeping the Blues en route to the Cup last season.
Something St. Louis hasn’t forgotten and something goalie Brian Elliott is hoping to reverse.
Kings’ keeper Jonathan Quick seems to have his game on-track and there wasn’t anyone better last Spring.
Both teams finished the season well, and the Blues have added Jay Boumeester and Jordan Leopold since they met last so it’s tough to say they’re the same team that lost all three regular season games against the Kings.
Best guess: Kings in six