How The West Is Won

Don't touch it! The Western Conference trophy was earned - but never touched - by the Chicago Blackhawks last year. (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Obviously Pens Labyrinth will be the best site for Pens playoff coverage, but our generosity – and NHL passion – knows no limits.  In the next two days, P-Lab’s scribes will be clueing you in to their rock solid Playoff Predictions.

We begin with the vaunted Western Conference.  Sure, the Black & Gold will only get to see one of these teams when the Stanley Cup is the spoils, but hockey playoff time is so engrossing and addicting that a majority of fans – including us! – will be glued to all games, not just the Penguins.

Let’s get started…

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks each of the past two seasons.  The Canuckleheads, as my Calgary friend calls them, were 2-1-1 in the regular season against the Hawks.  Vancouver led the league in goals per game (3.15) and goals against per game (2.20).  Now that is a SICK combination.  Need more evidence of their dominance?  The Canucks led the league in power play percentage (24.3) and were tied for second in penalty kill percentage (85.6).  Daniel Sedin led the NHL in points (104) and his brother Henrik tallied a league-best 75 assists.  Had enough?  Yeah, so will Chicago.

Vancouver in five.

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles

The Sharks got the better of their Division rivals three times in regulation, two times in a shootout, and were beaten once by the defensive-minded Kings.  Led by former Penguin Rob Scuderi, the Kings have managed a solid blueline, finishing tied for sixth (with the Penguins) in the NHL with 2.39 goals against per game.   However, LA gave up 4.17 gpg in their six contests with San Jose. A balanced Sharks team earned the second most regulation victories in the league this season, 48, while being paced by a formidable three-headed monster in Patrick Marleau (37-36-73), Joe Thornton (21-49-70), and Dany Heatley (26-38-64).   This series could be closer than expected.

San Jose in six.

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix

The aged versus the inexperienced.  Detroit boasts a line-up of eight players more than 36 years old.  They are grizzled and battle-tested, but can they withstand a playoff grind?  The Coyotes are upstarts who have only recently tasted success.  Does experience matter?  This same team took Detroit to the brink in last year’s first round series that went seven. Both teams are balanced with each having 10 players that reached double-digit goals scored.  The Wings were 2-1-1 against Phoenix this year.  Too hard to pick against the establishment.

Detroit in six.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville

Nashville finished outside the top-20 in scoring this season (2.60), but in typical Barry Trotz fashion, it was third in goals allowed per game (2.32).  Anaheim has the NHL’s top goal scorer in Corey Perry (50), and also features Bobby Ryan (34) and Teemu Selanne (31) as snipers.  Missing a superstar?  Ryan Getzlaf managed just 19 goals in his 67 games this year.  The Ducks are offensively gifted, but the goaltending is a question mark.  #1 Jonas Hiller has missed significant time with injury as has Ray Emery, which means former Predator Dan Eillis (2.39 gaa) might start game one.  The series will be determined by tempo.  Can the Preds ground the Ducks and muster just enough red lights to advance? Toss-up.  I hate to pick all favorites, but I just can’t see Nashville pulling it off.

Anaheim in six.

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