Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick Picks: Western Conference Quarterfinals

Roberto Luongo - Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Two
After revealing my picks for the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, I will continue my exercise by looking at the four series in the Western Conference. 

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

My pick: Vancouver Canucks in six games

Why? Los Angeles simply cannot score. In fact, they are downright brutal, sitting 29th overall in league scoring.

If it weren’t for Jonathan Quick – who should probably win the Vezina but won’t by virtue of playing on the West Coast – this team could have easily been in last night’s lottery conversation.

And, after 82 games of offensive ineptitude, it is a tad unreasonable to expect the Darryl Sutter led Kings to suddenly find their scoring touch.

Conversely, Vancouver has been one of the most consistent teams in the league, sitting in the top-six in important categories such as goals for, shots for, goals against and special teams.

While the dual-headed monster of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider may cause controversy down the road, it seems unlikely that the goal-challenged Kings will stoke those fires.

St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks

My pick: San Jose Sharks in seven games

Why? The Blues are playing with the pressure of expectation now, which may not necessarily suit this still young squad.

Conversely, the Sharks – who have often crumbled under said expectations – are playing with house money, having barely squeaked into the post-season themselves.

For all of St. Louis' goaltending and defensive achievements – they allow the fewest shots in the league and commit the fewest giveaways – scoring may also be problematic for Ken Hitchcock’s squad.

David Backes leads his team with a rather conservative 52 points and is their only forward to reach the 50-point plateau.

Should the Sharks be able to shut down Backes’ unit, then it could prove exceedingly difficult for the Blues to get the necessary offense to prevail.

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

My pick: Phoenix Coyotes in seven games

Why? As a Chicago native, it is difficult for me to hide my preference for a Chicago victory.

Yet, when looking at the situation dispassionately, the shaky goaltending situation in the Windy City is an obstacle that cannot be easily overlooked.

Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery’s save percentages hover at .900 and their numbers contrast starkly with Mike Smith’s shining statistics, which include a .930 percentage and eight shutouts.

It would also be foolish to believe that the Blackhawks’ offense can overpower the Coyotes. No doubt, the Hawks’ attack is more potent, but with only four players above the 50-point plateau, their scoring is not nearly as balanced as it once was and their powerplay is a dismal 27th overall. Simply put, they are not the same dynamic, attack-oriented team they were in 2010.

With Mike Smith’s excellent goaltending and blueliners like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larson, the Coyotes have the ability to neutralize the Hawks. Offensively, they should be able to squeak by on their scoring-by-committee approach, especially if Crawford or Emery concedes the weak goal or two.

Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

My pick: Nashville Predators in seven games

Why? These teams are ridiculously close. Separated by a mere two points in the standings, their offensive and defensive numbers are also distinguishable by only the thinnest of margins. Even the season series between the two does not offer any great clues, with each squad winning three contests.

However, if it is true that special teams and goaltending win series, than the Predators have what it takes to prevail.

Nashville ranks first overall in power play efficiency and is the tenth best team on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, Detroit has been surprisingly abysmal in both categories, ranking in the bottom half in each.

In addition, of all the first round series, home ice could prove to be most important in this one. Detroit has been subpar on the road, posting a 17-21-3 record. To put that in perspective, those 37 road points are only slightly better than Montreal’s yield of 36 road points.

After 82 games of road woes, the raucous Bridgestone Arena does not seem like the ideal place to correct the situation, does it?

Assuming Nashville’s offense does not go ice-cold as it did in their series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, there should be enough scoring to power past the always dangerous Red Wings.

What are your predictions for the Western Conference?

Louis is an Associate Editor at Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America)


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