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NHL first round playoff picks: Western Conference

Here is part two of my three part preview of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today I preview and make my picks for the Western Conference first round matchups.

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks

The West was very close down the stretch; the difference between fifth and ninth place ended up being only 4 points. Chicago had an up and down year after winning the Stanley cup last year and seeing a lot of players leave to free agency, but Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are all still there so this team could be dangerous in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them they face the machine-like Vancouver Canuks. The president's trophy champs aren't going to get upset in the first round. Expect to see plenty of their all-world forwards Ryan Kesler and Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Vancouver in 5.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings

San Jose is another team who seems to make the playoffs every year and always lose early on. This year they return as the two seed and still have their high powered set of forwards with Patrcik Marleau, Joe Thorton and Dany Heatley, but the key to their run this year will be goalie Antti Niemi who made a name for himself when he won the Stanley Cup with Chicago last year. Of course everyone is down on Los Angeles, because they will be without their scoring leader Anze Kopitar. San Jose in 5. 

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

These two teams met in the first round of the playoff last year and Detroit won the series, this year the odds seemed to be stacked against Phoenix even more. Detroit may be old but they are full of star power. Henrik Zetterberg will be out with an injury, but Nicklas Lindstrom and Pavel Datsyuk will be effective as always. Conversely, Phoenix has a very young team with little name recognition aside from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Dave Tippett will get his team to outskate those Detroit veterans in a tough series. Phoenix in 7.

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

Coming into the playoffs I think Anaheim is the hottest team in the NHL. They surged over the last couple weeks of the season to take fourth place in the west and no one was hotter than Corey Perry who became the league's only 50-goal-scorer with a couple of hat tricks late in the year. Nashville only allowed 194 goals during the season (second best in NHL) but Shea Weber and their defense will have their hands full with Perry, Teemu Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf. Anaheim in 4. 

Before the postseason kicks off tonight it's time I make my prediction for who will win the whole thing. I'll continue to pick the series as they go on, but here's my pick before any of the teams face off: Vancouver over Boston in 7. Vancouver is the best team from a superior Western Conference this year, and they won't be beat. The Sedin twins will be vital to their run but the most important matchup in this series will be goaltending. Two of the best goalies from the regular season will matchup: Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. Luongo gets the edge in that matchup and the Canuks will roll.



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