Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: Western Conference Round One Preview And Predictions

May 24, 2011; Vancouver, BC, CANADA; A general view as Vancouver Canucks players and fans celebrate after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game five of the western conference finals of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena. The Canucks won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

Starting Wednesday, the NHL drops the puck for the 2011-2012 playoffs and just because the Calgary Flames season is over doesn’t mean Flame For Thought stops caring about hockey.  The site will be breaking down each match up, each round and covering all aspects of the playoffs through the Stanely Cup Finals.

Up first is the preview and prediction for the Western Conference First Round:

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The breakdown:

With 10 shut outs this season, best in the NHL, and 5th in the league with wins, Jonathan Quick is having an All Star season for the LA Kings.  Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo is carrying on his long tradition of stepping up his play when it counts with his right hand man, Cory Schneider backing him up for the Vancouver Canucks.  Goaltending wise, if Quick can stay healthy, the Kings have the upper hand.

Even though the Canucks are a Sedin down, the depth of the offensive power of the team is impressive.  At the end of the day, the team has managed to rocket themselves to 1st in the Western Conference.  With Jeff Carter missing from the line up and Dustin Penner still in the lineup, the Kings depth is suffering slightly, but the Kings still have Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar pushing the team forward offensively.  In the case of the offense, the Canucks have an edge.

Defensively, the Canucks have their hero of the 2011 season, Kevin Bieksa, who’s over time skills might be needed this round against Quick.  Drew Doughty is a big contributer to the Kings’ offense while still being strong defensively.  The boost that Doughty offers the team pushes the Kings ahead of the Canucks offensively.

A final aspect of the series, how hard I’m rooting for or against a team, better known as the Cait Factor.  In this case, the Kings win because I don’t know any one who roots for the Canucks.

Long story short: Kings in 6

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The breakdown:

With the San Jose Sharks on bench puck handling skills, their advantage offensively is markedly much better than the St. Louis Blues if they continue to play in that fashion however, the Blues are going through some what of an impressive overhaul this season offensively.  While no one player is have a boom of points, the depth that the team has is unbelievable, contribution to getting the puck in the net right on down the line.  The Sharks do not have the same depth, however their team is lead by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Patrick Marleau, who are all haveing + 60 point seasons.  However I think depth goes further than a handful of super stars offensively, winner is Blues.

Defensively, I only have two words for you: Kevin Shattenkirk.  The guy is a beast.  Considered a “bonus” in a deal with the Colorado Avalanche, the Blues have done nothing but grow with him on the ice.  There is no one on the Sharks that come close to what Shattenkirk has done with the Blues.  Advantage: Blues

Goaltending is a shaky part of the Blues line up.  Jaroslav Halak in theory is the first choice for the Blues, but his game hasn’t been “on” all season and their back up is a shocker after his performance with the Avalanche and the Ottawa Senators, Brian Elliot.  However, if Halak does hit another one of his rough patches, Elliot has managed to thrive in St. Louis and is a solid alternative for this team.  Antti Niemi is most known for struggling in the post season and is not the most reliable goalie when the game is on the line.  For goaltending: Blues

The Cait Factor: Blues all the way!

Series goes to Blues in 5 games

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The breakdown:

Well the Chicago Blackhawks have had an interesting season when it comes to their goaltending.  With no clear cut starter, Cory Crawford and Ray Emery have spent much of the season trading off on the starting role.  In past seasons, I would have called Crawford a reliable force for the Blackhawks but of late, he’s been one of the most unsteady aspect of the Blackhawks’ lineup.  Meanwhile, Mike Smith recorded 8 shut outs this season and is having a personal best season all around for the Phoenix Coyotes.  Goaltending goes to the Coyotes.

Offensively, the Blackhawks might have a road bump in the first few games or further down the stretch with the problems Jonathan Toews has been having lately.  Whether it’s being extra cautious with their star going into the playoffs, or something serious, the Blackhawks without their captain are a different team.  However, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa have all done outstanding jobs keeping up the scoring and domination.  As for the Coyotes, offensively, they have quite a trio of players.  Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, and Radim Vrbata help light up goaltenders night after night.  However, once again, I have to go with depth and that belongs to the Blackhawks.  Without their leader, the team has managed to fill in and keep moving forward.  Offense: Blackhawks

If Duncan Keith manages to keep his elbows to himself, the Blackhawks have a strong defense.  Him, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson on the ice help the Blackhawks overcome their goaltending problem.  The problem with the Coyotes’ defense is the fact that they put Michal Rozsival out on the ice.  I’m sorry I can’t take any team seriously with him on the ice.  I don’t care that the Coyotes are having this surge, defense goes to the Blackhawks.

Cait Factor is in favor of the Blackhawks

Overall: Blackhawks in 7

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The breakdown:

With an unsteady goaltending rotation of Jimmy Howard, Ty Conklin, and Joey MacDonald the Detroit Red Wings will have a hard time competing with the awesome powers that are Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback.  I mean I don’t think I need to say much more that Rinne and Lindback and you know I’m giving the advantage to the Nashville Predators.

To put it politely, the Red Wings are not a young team, and their star defensemen leads the age parade at 41.  While Nicklas Lidstrom is a strong factor for the Wings, he is not going to block the shots and play at the same level he did 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago.  To add to that, well Niklas Kronwall needs to not Kronwall any one, because he is of no use suspended.  Compared to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Wings defense doesn’t look like the spectacular force they once were.  Predators for defense.

The Predators have learned this season that winning is much easier when the lead is by more than one goal, meaning the team has become much more offensive than they have been in the past, however the Red Wings have the experience of playoff hockey being an offensively based team.  With Pavel Datsyuk leading the way with his skills of take aways and forcing the turnover, the Red Wings will test the defensive skills of the Predators more.  Unfortunately the Wings are a below .500 team on the road this season and do not have the home ice advantage, so that does put a strain on the offense to push themselves a bit more.  In the end, the veteran Red Wings will walk away with an offensive advantage.

Cait Factor goes to the Predators.

Overall: Predators in 6

Agree?  Disagree? Leave some comments and let me know!  

Stay tuned for the Easter Conference!

And make sure you check out the blog Too Many Men On The Site, Matt Calamia posted his predictions for the Eastern Conference yesterday.

Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Detroit Red Wings LA Kings Nashville Predators Phoenix Coyotes Playoffs San Jose Sharks St. Louis Blues Vancouver Canucks Western Conference

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