Wednesday, April 11, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Western Conference

Yesterday, we took a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. Today, we delve into matchups featuring our good friends in the Western Conference. Once again, we will be assisted in our puckish prognostications by fabled Tonight Show guru and soothsayer, Carnac The Magnificent. These previews have NOT been sealed in a mayonnaise jar on Funk And Wagnall's front porch since noon today.

(1W) Vancouver Canucks
(8W) Los Angeles Kings

The Matchup: This is a rematch of a 2010 series between these two teams that absolutely nobody remembers. I'm assuming the Canucks won, because losing to the Kings wouldn't have been nearly painful enough for Canucks fans. This year has a different feel from the Kings' standpoint, as they have imported nearly 74% of the Philadelphia Flyers' roster in an attempt to make it to the finals and lose. Meanwhile, the Canucks are back to defend their Western Conference title. Giggle. If this series comes down to goaltending, the Kings may have the edge in Jonathan Quick, who racked up 10 shutouts this season. The Canucks will be backstopped by Roberto Luongo until they're backstopped by Cory Schneider, until they've decided that Luongo is ready to give it another shot, until they see he isn't and Schneider is re-inserted, until the Canucks remember they're basically married to Luongo until 2022 and put him back in for good. By that point, the second period of game 1 will be underway.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: All eyes will be on Mike Richards, the former Flyers' captain for whom the Kings paid a... well, a Them Ransom. Richards is looked at as a prototypical playoff player, a leader who can hit, score, fight, and make plays. Richards figures to see time matched up against Ryan Kesler, which will tie an NHL playoff record for the least amount of charisma between two opponents at one time.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Canucks forward Dale Weise, who missed the cutoff for NHL players named "Dale" by 25 years.

Carnac Says: "Twin Peaks".

"What does one Sedin do when the other Sedin is having sex?"

Prediction: Canucks in 7

(4W) Nashville Predators
(5W) Detroit Red Wings

The Matchup: The Nashville Predators are on a mission to finally take that last step in their journey to win the Stanley Cup, and fittingly, their first obstacle is their previously insurmountable rival Detroit Red Wings. David Poile's carefully crafted 15-year plan is finally coming to fruition, and that was never more evident when he threw caution to the wind and traded their first round draft pick, Paul Gaustad. Alrighty then. Meanwhile, the Red Wings and their fans are more excited for the playoffs this season than usual, as they won't be inconvenienced by late game starting times against opponents on the west coast this season. YOU CAN GO TO BED BEFORE 11:30 NOW, WINGS FANS. Think of how nice it will be to have that extra two hours of sleep when you go in the next day for your 4PM-10PM shift at McDonalds.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Prodigal son Alex Radulov returned to the Predators after nearly four seasons playing in the KHL. Radulov and the Preds had each other by the short-n-curlys, as Radulov wanted the free agency that playing the last 10 games of this NHL campaign offered, and the Preds needed the dynamic gamebreaker they have under contract with Radulov for the most important playoff season in franchise history. A productive Radulov will raise the blood pressure of rival GMs, coaches, and fans who don't understand the concept of a player that's "under contract".

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Expect game announcers and Red Wings fans to be force-feeding you the "Valtteri Filppula has matured into the next dominant Detroit forward" storyline. Don't buy it. Filppula is a milquetoast player that benefits from playing with Henrik Zetterberg. Without Zetterberg, Filppula is Josef Beranek.

Carnac Says: "Mathieu Dandenault."

"What's the answer when Mathieu Dande asks you if the Red Wings are going to win this series?"

Prediction: Predators in 6

(2W) St. Louis Blues
(7W) San Jose Sharks

The Matchup: Everybody has that one moment they wish they could go back and do over. For Blues fans, it's the 2000 first round series against the Sharks. The Blues were the President's Trophy winner that season, Chris Pronger won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, but the team stumbled and gagged away their first round series against the up-and-coming Sharks. This time, the Blues are the up-and-coming team, and the Sharks are the ones who get the lump at critical moments. A very real question to be asked: if the Sharks aren't able to upset the Blues, have we seen their window close on a suddenly aging core?

Most Interesting Player In This Series: The Blues allowed blueliner Alex Pietrangelo to bake properly until his game was golden brown and crispy, and have been rewarded by two consecutive stellar seasons. As big as Pietrangelo looks on the ice, that's how smooth he looks as well. This will be his first taste of playoff action, and it will be interesting to see how the young Blues defender holds his ground against a veteran Sharks group that is big enough and experienced enough to feel comfortable attacking Pietrangelo directly.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: I wish I could get behind Joe Thornton. I really do. He seems like a nice enough guy, he is supremely talented and blessed with elite on-ice vision, and has put up eye-popping stats over the years. The problem is, we've seen this movie before, over and over and over again for nearly 15 years. Joe's a deadbeat dad of a hockey player, one with far too much to offer to have such a spotty track record. Like the Sharks, the Blues play a physical style, and they won't be shy about getting in Thornton's face, hitting and agitating him at every turn. Until Thornton proves he can thrive in a playoff hockey setting, it will be easy to dismiss what he brings to the table.

Carnac Says: "Hitchcock".

"Name a painful way to tow a boat."

Prediction: Blues in 6

(3W) Phoenix Coyotes
(6W) Chicago Blackhawks

The Matchup: The Chicago Blackhawks replace the Detroit Red Wings as the co-stars of the now annual Phoenix playoff passion play. The Coyotes get into the playoffs on the NHL's dime, the cloud of relocation hangs over the series, the Coyotes lose the series, the Coyotes are spared for "one more season". Lather, rinse, repeat. Hard fact: NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THE COYOTES IN THE PLAYOFFS TO BEGIN WITH. I'm openly rooting for the Blackhawks in this series.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: A bit overshadowed by Sidney Crosby's late-season return has been the ongoing concussion saga of Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the final 21 games of Chicago's regular season and is sketchy as a candidate to play early in this series. The Blackhawks may have the depth to replace Toews's scoring production, but there's no one on the roster that will be able to replace his lustrous playoff muttonchop sideburns. Ex-Hawks GM Dale Tallon's failure to submit a qualifying offer to former US president Chester A. Arthur in 2009 could come back to haunt the franchise.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Phoenix plugger Boyd Gordon, a fine defensive forward, may be the most nondescript player on the most nondescript team in the NHL. Plus, he's another one of those guys with "Last Name First" disease. Stop bullshitting us, Gordon Boyd, there's supposed to be a comma in there somewhere.

Carnac Says: "Coyote Ugly".

"Describe Dave Tippett's gameplan."

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

May Brian Burke loosen the ties on your sister's undergarments.

Enjoy the first round!

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