And now on to the West!
- Series E – #1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Calgary Flames
My Pick: I am confidently going with the Flames to upset the Red Wings here. I feel Calgary will be more hungry and more cohesive. The Wings have a lot of question marks at the moment, including a big one in Todd Bertuzzi. The Flames, on the other hand, have one of the best goalies in the NHL and are a playoff strong team (like the Oilers). While the Red Wings have gobs of veteran experience, expect the Flames to push hard for the win. Flames in 7 games.
Players to Watch: For the Red Wings, keep your eye on Pavel Datsyuk. The speedy playmaker will pass the puck around with incredible slickness and will get to open spaces to pop in a few goals. On the Calgary side, it won’t get bigger and better than Miika Kiprusoff. Kipper is perhaps the best goaltender in playoff situations in the entire Western conference at this point and will heavily challenge all shooters on the Wings. Look for Miika to make a heck of an impact.
Series F – #2 Anaheim Ducks vs. #7 Minnesota Wild
My Pick: I’m going with the Ducks here. The Ducks are ready, have solid skill on defense and have a killer combination of forwards up front. Selanne, McDonald and youngster Ryan Getzlaf will circle the wagons around the Wild and take them to task before Minny can get out of the gate. Minnesota is in a transition period in their game and will have to shift playing styles to adapt to the Ducks attack. Anaheim in 4 games.
Players to Watch: For the Ducks, watch for Ryan Getzlaf to take the reigns and power a forward attack that will dominate. Getzlaf has it all: a rocket of a shot, good physical play and even leadership skills. For the Wild, Pavol Demitra will be the player to watch. His playmaking abilities and his skill will be tough to match and Pavol will get the puck to the Wild’s streaking forwards quickly.
Series G – #3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Dallas Stars
My Pick: Call me biased, but I will be cheering for my hometown boys in Vancouver. I also logically select the Canucks to win the series, however. Vancouver will be charging out of the gate with loads of playoff energy and the roof of GM Place will blow off. They’ll be tough to beat, as Luongo and the squad will be thirsty for the Cup. Their energy will catch the Stars off guard. Canucks in 5 games.
Players to Watch: For the Canucks, it’s all about Luongo. Will he collapse under playoff pressure or will he shine like he has all season long in Vancouver? Time will tell, but my money’s on a stellar playoff performance from Roberto Luongo as he tracks down pucks and makes saves he has no business making. For the Stars, Marty Turco will match Luongo in many ways and will try to outshine him. His puckhandling abilities with factor in the series, as will his solid netminding. It will end up being a battle of the goalies in this series.
Series H – #4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 San Jose Sharks
My Pick: This is a tough one to call, but I believe San Jose has the edge here. They have stacked their team with Guerin and other players and will be ready to charge out of the gate. With Thornton, Cheechoo and Marleau working hard, the Sharks will be tough to beat. Nashville will rely on their size and speed to work around the Sharks, but I think San Jose will simply be too large and too skilled and moving the puck to let the Predators win. Sharks in 6 games.
Players to Watch: For Nashville, injuries are a problem, but Peter Forsberg may be the player to watch for a playoff impact. Forsberg is a seasoned veteran with oddles of puck control. San Jose will have to work hard to get it off of him and the Thornton vs. Forsberg battle may be a playoff highlight, if Peter remains healthy. For San Jose, check out Joe Thornton and you can’t go wrong. His playmaking abilities and his recently acquired nastiness (as evidenced in his recent game versus Vancouver) will make him a force to be reckoned with.