Cup Favorites in the Wide Open West? Flip a Coin
With the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings out of this years' playoffs, the West is anyone's conference to win.
This season, the Ducks open with the upsart Winnipeg Jets, who made the playoffs for the first time since moving from Atlanta in 2011. It could be called the Selanne Series, as the Finnish legend starred for both of these teams.
Anaheim is still led by Corey Perry -- who racked up 33 goals this season -- and 70-point producer Ryan Getzlaf. It looks like Frederik Anderson will get the call in net, but the Ducks have a capable backup in John Gibson, if he's healthy.
Winnipeg lost all three games to Anaheim this year and finished ten points behind them in the standings. Ondrej Pavelec will be the Jets' goaltender, with Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd expected to spearhead the scoring.
Vancouver and Calgary will square off in what should become a fierce series; these clubs share a mutual disdain in the worst of times. Like last season, when neither team qualified for the Cup chase.
The Canucks and new coach Willie Desjardins will have the home advantage and will depend on the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, along with leading goal poacher Radim Vrbata. Ryan Miller came to Lotusland as a free agent and can be as good as any goaltender in the playoffs.
Calgary's coach Bob Hartley should claim Coach of the Year honors, as the Flames were picked to finish 'way out of the race and then lost team MVP Mark Giordano to an injury. Jonas Hiller is strong in net for Calgary, while up front, the Flames are led by Jiri Hudler, their goals and assists leader.
After finishing second overall in the West, St Louis still drew a tough first-round matchup against Minnesota.
The Blues are looking to get by the first round after two tough losses to Chicago and Los Angeles the past two years. Vladimir Tarasenko has come into his own and, at 23, led the Blues with 73 points. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen shared the goaltending duties, but Elliot should start the playoffs.
The Wild upset Colorado in the first round last year and look to take another step this time around. Goalie Devan Dubnyk came to Minnesota in a mid-season trade and wound up winning 36 games. Zach Parise led the Wild in scoring, as the New Jersey Devils continue to wish he'd never left as a free agent three years ago.
Finally, in what could be the best first-round matchup, Nashville will have home ice advantage against Chicago.
New coach Peter Laviolette led the Predators to the playoffs after a two-year absence. He'll bank any chance on advancing on goalie Pekka Rinne, who after missing time with a knee injury, is rounding back into shape. Shea Weber and Popeye's kid anchor a strong blueline, and Filip Forsberg continues to develop into one of the NHL's premier young centers. And talk about a team regretting a trade! Where would the Washington Capitals be right now with this dude in the middle?
Chicago is always a favroite to advance, and with Patrick Kane skating again, the Blackhawks are primed to make another run this spring. Jonathan Toews is solid as ever, while Joel Quenneville's defense is seasoned and in sync. They may have mailed in the last four games of the season, but their swagger is still there along with the talent to back it up.
So the Kings are done, the Sharks choked again, and Colorado fell off the map. Of the participants, here's what Bovada thinks about who's in line to raise the Clarence Campbell Bowl:
|Blackhawks ...||15:4||Predators ...||6:1|
|Ducks ...||4:1||Canucks ...||8:1|
|Blues ...||4:1||Flames ...||10:1|
|Wild ...||9:2||Jets ...||12:1|