Alright, so the East we set and now-- it's time for the West. It's simple geography, people.
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks
The Sharks had a helluva season under new head coach Todd McLellan and won themselves a President's Trophy, which is all well and good, but they need to get the playoff monkey off their back. They haven't been past the second round since before the lockout and really haven't done much with the talent they have. It will be interesting to see if the change behind the bench will chance the jinx in the playoffs.
The Ducks, however, have had a rough year with injury, slothfulness, and woe, but turn it on during the last 15 games of the season and seem to be riding Jonas Hiller to the end. Even if he falters, J-S Giguere has a Cup ring for a reason. The one thing they will need to get is secondary scoring if their top guys in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are shut down.
PREDICITION: Another upset special, Ducks in 7. I don't know what it is, but I don't think that the Sharks can get the monkey off their back. They seem to be a different animal in the playoffs, more like a guppy. However, the experience on the backline for the Ducks will shine through and shutdown anything the Sharks throw at them.
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets are probably one of the feel good stories of the year, finally making the playoffs for the first time, the season in which they lost their owner/founder. Steve Mason has played out of his mind, Rick Nash has grown into his own, and the supporting cast has been so quiet, it's hard to pick out which one will snipe you on any given night.
The Red Wings have had a goalie problem from the start, but their offense has been something that has helped them. Pavel Datsyuk has had a breakout year, while Henrik Zetterberg has been steady through the season. While Nicklas Lidstrom hasn't been at his best, you can never think he has lost his stride. Playoff powerhouse Johan Franzen and his new 11-year deal will be definitely one guy to look out for.
PREDICITION: Red Wings in 5. I don't care how bad the goaltending for Detroit or how great a story the Jackets have been, I'm sorry-- you don't bet against the champs.
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues
Another feel good story is the St. Louis Blues rise back to relevance with a huge run at the end of the season and it has sparked the bandwagon effect thanks to the play of T.J. Oshie, Brad Boyes, and rest of the cast of characters. This team also validates John Davidson as a solid executive for making this team as it is through youth and a sprinkle of veteran leadership. Also, look for Andy Murray to get some nods for the Adams Trophy. The main concern should be goaltending, but they seemed to have that solidified to make the playoffs.
Goaltending won't be a concern for the Canucks, as they will be backed again by Roberto Luongo. Though he has some injury issues, the captain will be ready to get the Nucks back to championship form. With the Sedin twins firing on all cylinders and Mats Sundin in the fold, you'd be hard pressed to count out the Canucks slipping up in the first round.
PREDICITION: As hard as it is, Canucks in 6. The Blues may be a great story, but I think he Canucks will be too much head-to-head for them and you really can't go against Luongo when it comes to going against the likes of Chris Mason.
#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames
Yet another great story, all coming out of the Central Division, the Hawks have brought hockey back to Chicago and it couldn't come at a better time. The youth movement took a year to adjust and it's shining through in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, the young defensive core, and let's not overlook Andrew Ladd, either. Having a Cup winning goalie won't hurt nor will having two experience keepers back there as options.
The Flames will need to pick it up and hope they can beat the Hawks, which they have had difficulty doing in the recent past. While the pick-up of Olli Jokinen was decent, the team rested on their laurels and dropped sharply out of the Northwest Division top spot. Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri have stepped it up and will be called out for the playoffs. The defense, however, needs to be a little tighter and participate in keeping the puck out, rather than joining the rush. This will also be a test on whether or not Miikka Kiprusoff was overworked this season.
PREDICITION: Hawks will take it in six. There's only going to be one deep playoff team in Calgary and that's the WHL's Hitmen. The Hawks have too much momentum and swagger, which will show against a beaten and worn-out Flames team.