NHL Western Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Western Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Western Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings

The Canucks have picked the right time to play their best hockey. Vancouver earned its second consecutive President’s Trophy by winning eight of its last 10 games, allowing just 16 goals over that stretch.

The two clubs split the season series, with the Kings out-shooting the Canucks in three of the four games. The Kings’ penalty kill was the fourth best in the league but will be tested by the fourth-most dangerous power play.

Daniel Sedin’s status for this series remains up in the air. There have been reports that Sedin is skating by himself and that he will likely return in the first round. Goaltender Roberto Luongo will start the playoffs for the Canucks but the team won’t hesitate to turn to Cory Schneider, who finished the season with a 1.96 GAA and a .937 save percentage.

Anze Kopitar and Co. have been struggling offensively all season and if that doesn’t change they won’t have a shot at stopping the Canucks.

Season Series: Vancouver (2-1-1), Los Angeles (2-2)

Series prediction: Canucks in six games

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks

St. Louis dominated a number of teams this season and the San Jose Sharks were no exceptions. The Blues won all four meetings between the two clubs, shutting them out twice and outscoring the Sharks 11-3.

The Blues are by far the stingiest club in the league allowing just 165 goals which lead to Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott sharing the William Jennings Trophy. But Ken Hitchcock’s club isn’t exactly riding a high heading into the playoffs. The Blues dropped four of their last five games allowing the Canucks to lock up the top spot in the Western Conference.

San Jose swept home-and-home series with both Dallas and Los Angeles to secure seventh place in the West but has been far too inconsistent in 2012. The bottom line in this series is that the Blues are simply too good on home ice (30-6-1-4) for the Sharks to have a legitimate shot of winning four games.

Season Series: St. Louis (4-0), San Jose (0-4)

Series prediction: Blues in five games

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

You won’t find a goaltender playing better than the Coyotes’ Mike Smith. Smith allowed just two goals in his last five games, powering the Coyotes to their first division title.

"He's embraced the No. 1 goaltender role with our team and he's played excellent," Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett told reporters. "He had a few games there where he was basically willing us into the playoffs. His game is top-notch right now. Hopefully it goes into the playoffs and that continues."

Smith won all three games he started against the Blackhawks this season. Chicago picked up a victory the one time they faced backup Jason Labarbera.

At the other end of the ice, bettors will likely see both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery at some point. Chicago finished 22nd in goals against but relied on a lethal offense to finish sixth in the conference.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews missed the final 22 games of the regular season with a concussion and, at this point, there are no guarantees he returns for this series.

Season Series: Phoenix (3-1), Chicago (2-2)

Series prediction: Coyotes in six games

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

While it wasn’t confirmed until the Red Wings picked up a point against the Blackhawks Saturday, everyone had been expecting to see this matchup for the past month.

It was critical for the Predators to finish fourth in the West and keep the Red Wings away from home-ice advantage. Detroit has the worst road record (17-21-2-1) of any playoff team. The Predators are a respectable 26-10-2-3 at home.

Shea Weber’s heavy shot anchors the deadliest power-play unit in the league, firing at a 21.6-percent clip. Late-season addition Alexander Radulov has made the power play even more dangerous with seven points in nine games since joining the team.

The Red Wings lead the league in even-strength goals, with a 1.44 for/against ratio. If the two sides stay out of the penalty box, Detroit could have the advantage. It also has much more playoff experience than the Predators.

Much like the rest of this series, the goaltenders are evenly matched. Pekka Rinne had a league-best 43 wins during the regular season but Jimmy Howard’s GAA was significantly better with their save percentages looking nearly identical.

Season Series: Nashville (3-3), Detroit (3-3)

Series prediction: Predators in seven games

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Re: NHL Western Conference Playoffs: Round 1 Preview and Picks

NHL Western Conference Playoff Betting Cheat Sheet
By Dustin Nielson

Here are a few tips as you get ready for the puck to drop on the Western Conference playoffs later this week.

Hottest goalie

Jonathan Quick is the best goaltender in the Western Conference but nobody was hotter down the stretch than Phoenix netminder Mike Smith. Smith almost single-handily carried the Coyotes to the postseason with his play over the last two weeks of the season.

Smith had recorded three consecutive shutouts prior to allowing just one goal in a big 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues Friday night.

Critics say Smith’s play is nothing more than a product of Dave Tippett’s system in the desert, but Smith actually faced close to 31 shots per game this season.

Best 5-on-5 team

I don’t have anything against special teams but, as we saw late in the regular season, most referees put the whistle away in critical games. That means successful teams must have the ability to score at even strength.

No team in the league does that better than the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings score 1.44 more goals at even strength per game than their opponents. The only teams that are even close to Detroit in even-strength dominance are the Bruins and Blues.

Top hockey pool pick

When you look at the NHL’s list of scoring leaders, you don’t see many names from the Western Conference. In fact, Henrik Sedin is the only player from the West to crack the Top 10 in scoring this season.

Henrik would be a nice addition to your playoff pool roster for a couple of reasons: The Canucks are once again poised to make a long playoff run and Sedin stepped his game up down the stretch with his brother out of the lineup.

He hasn’t scored a goal since February 19 but his game isn’t about putting pucks in the net - it’s about setting up others. And there aren’t many in the league better at it than him.

Best under bet

The addition of head coach Ken Hitchcock early this season was great news for the Blues and fans of the under. St. Louis played over the total just 21 times all season and the crease combination of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott has combined for 15 shutouts.

The Blues have already said that Halak will be the No. 1 guy in goal for the playoffs, but if he struggles they certainly won’t hesitate to go to Elliott.

Sleeper pick to win the West

If the Los Angeles Kings can find a way to score goals in the playoffs, they will be a tough team to finish off.

Quick is a lock to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy but he should probably get some consideration for the Hart Trophy as well. Quick lost 33 games this season with the Kings scoring only 44 goals in those contests.

Darryl Sutter’s squad is second in the league in goals against, fourth in shots against and have the fourth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Over their last 10 games, the Kings have averaged 2.8 goals - up from their season average of 2.3.

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