Here’re my Western Conference picks… you’ll notice that I’m considerably less passionate about the Western Conference. It’s just not as polarizing as the East.
(1) San Jose Sharks vs (8) Colorado Avalanche
I’m going to throw this out there from the get-go, just so you know where I’m coming from: I have picked the ostie-de-calisse-de-tabarnac Sharks to win the Stanley Cup every year since something like 2003. I will not get burned again. I will bet against the Sharks in every series they play for the rest of time.
So, with that in mind, let’s make up some sort of justification for why the completely overmatched Avalanche will win this series.
How about this? Colorado will win because rookie sensation Matt Duchene will score six goals in the series, two of which will be overtime winners. Also working in Colorado’s favour will be San Jose’s bad karma.
Actually, maybe that’s the reason the Sharks can’t finish the job – karma.
It all started back in the 1960s when the NHL expanded to the West Coast with the births of the Los Angeles Kings and the California Seals. The Seals played in Oakland and were basically a disaster – in fact, the best thing they contributed to hockey in their short life was when their GM basically was tricked into helping the Montreal Canadiens secure the draft pick that eventually became Guy Lafleur.
The re-baptized Golden Seals were eventually put out of their misery and became the Cleveland Barons in 1976, and when the Barons flopped in Ohio, they merged with the Minnesota North Stars and moved once again.
Two moves and three cities later, the family that owned the Seals/Barons part of the franchise eventually brokered a deal that saw the Sharks come into existence with bits and pieces of the North Stars franchise and moved the team back to California – which essentially laid the foundation for the eventual shipping of the Stars to Dallas, breaking the hearts of many a Minnesotan.
So there it is, that’s why the Sharks can never close the deal – it’s bad karma for all their movement and lack of commitment to one city and one fan base… even if they have been in San Jose for close to 20 years now.
I think that’s a pretty solid argument right there… wait… didn’t the Avalanche used to be the Quebec Somethingorothers… dammit.
Avalanche in…. um…. 6?
(2) Chicago Blackhawks vs (7) Nashville Predators
This is one of those matchups in which a really dominant, exciting team is meeting up with an also-ran who happened to also run into the playoffs this year.
Nashville simply has a snowball’s chance in hell of beating the Hawks – or to use a better euphemism, the Preds have as much chance of beating Chicago as they do of lasting long-term in Nashville.
Chicago is the quickest, most exciting team in hockey – even without Brian Campbell to carry his share of the load on defence. The Hawks’ captain, Jonathan Toews, is one of the most dynamic young leaders in the game, and Chicago was smart enough to give him the C instead of the generally dislikeable Patrick Kane.
Washington might want to learn from the Toews/Kane example.
Blackhawks in 4.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs (6) Los Angeles Kings
This will probably be one of the more exciting and evenly-matched series of the first round. It’s honestly hard to bet against either of these teams, but in the end I’m going to have to go with the Canucks’ experience over the shocking Kings’ youthful exuberance.
Save for Ryan Smith, the Kings have a young group of players most of which whom will play their first games in the postseason this year. LA has been doing a great job the last two-three years of rebuilding from the ground-up, but this team is only a soft goal or two away from a meltdown.
They are a team of the future, not the now.
On the other hand, the Canucks are primed for a playoff run.
With Art Ross winner Henrik Sedin busting the assists like he’s on a line with Wayne Gretzky in the mid-80s and goalie Roberto Luongo with a major chip on his shoulder, one can only imagine that this is a case of now-or-never and the Canucks’ time is now. At least in the first round.
Canucks in 5.
(4) Phoenix Coyotes vs (5) Detroit Red Wings
I want to believe in the Coyotes, I really do. I just don’t. I can’t. Speaking of bad karma, this is a franchise that has Los Angeles Clippers levels of bad vibes going around. The ‘Yotes were ripped from the clutches of Winnipeg’s diehard, loyal fans in the mid-90s and have done nothing but lose since moving to the desert. They’ve made the playoffs just six times since moving, including this year, and have never advanced past the quarters; they’ve lost millions upon millions of dollars, went bankrupt, and are now owned by the NHL; and they have clearly lost whatever fans they may have once had – watch a Coyotes game on TV and you’ll see more than a few fans are dressed up like seats on any given night.
On the other side of the equation, you have one of the most legendary organizations in the history of the league; a team that has more or else dominated the NHL since the mid-90s; a team that has won four Stanley Cups in the last 15 years.
Detroit’s supposed weakness of the last few seasons has been goaltending, but guys like Chris Osgood have gotten it done over the years, and his former-understudy-turned starter Jimmy Howard had a breakout season – 37 wins, a 2.32 goals against average and a .922 save percentage ain’t too shabby.
Howard might not be ready to lead the Wings back to a championship, but he’ll get them past Phoenix.
Red Wings in 6.