Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview and Schedule - 1st Round

*Eastern/Western Conference 2nd Round Wrapups will appear Friday, May 15.
*Eastern/Western Conference Finals Schedule and Preview will appear Saturday, May 16

Western Conference - 1st Round Preview
Western Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Western Conference - 2nd Round Preview

Eastern Conference - 1st Round Preview
Eastern Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Eastern Conference - 2nd Round Preview

[Editor's Note: Today's NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals preview comes from a special guest columnist to the SportsJudge blog, Darren Coslov.]

A sporting event which combines the excitement of the 1st round of March Madness with the thrill of Sunday at the Masters kicks off tonight...the NHL Playoffs. For those hockey fans out there, the drag of the regular season is over and now the real hockey begins. Watch the video above - you'll probably get chills.

Without further delay, let's take a look at how the first round of the Western Conference might shake out...

Thu, April 16, Anaheim at San Jose, 10:30 pm ET
Sun, April 19, Anaheim at San Jose, 10 pm ET
Tue, April 21, San Jose at Anaheim, 10:30 pm ET
Thu, April 23, San Jose at Anaheim, 10:30 pm ET
*Sat, April 25, Anaheim at San Jose, 10 pm ET
*Mon, April 27, San Jose at Anaheim
*Wed, April 29, Anaheim at San Jose

The Presidents Trophy is in San Jose, but that is not going to stop the physical abuse Anaheim is about to install on the Sharks. After a dominant season with a rookie Head Coach (from Detroit keep in mind), the Sharks will have to find a solution to the mental block of repeated past post-season failures. Anaheim is about to delay that process. Ryan Getzlaf’s scoring touch has been off as of late, but he's been racking up assists as the Ducks have been on fire...and let’s not forget, this is a brand new season. Anything can happen.

Prediction: Anaheim in 7 games

Thu, April 16, Columbus at Detroit, 7 pm ET
Sat, April 18, Columbus at Detroit, 6 pm ET
Tue, April 21, Detroit at Columbus, 7 pm ET
Thu, April 23, Detroit at Columbus, 7 pm ET
*Sat, April 25, Columbus at Detroit, 7 pm ET
*Mon, April 27, Detroit at Columbus
*Wed, April 29, Columbus at Detroit

Steve Mason has been outstanding all year long and should be a lock for the Rookie of the Year award. Chris Osgood has been the exact opposite, leaving Ty Conklin as Detroit's best goaltender this season (who would've thought?). The offense in Detroit is dominant and proven, but will that be enough to beat the young stud, Mason? Although they have zero playoff experience, the Jackets may have an edge here as crazy as it sounds. It's never easy battling the grind of the playoffs after a lengthy Cup run the year before, and that might result in an early exit for the Red Wings.

Prediction: Columbus in 7

Wed, April 15, St. Louis at Vancouver, 10 pm ET
Fri, April 17, St. Louis at Vancouver, 10 pm ET
Sun, April 19, Vancouver at St. Louis, 7 pm ET
Tue, April 21, Vancouver at St. Louis, 8 pm ET
*Fri, April 24, St. Louis at Vancouver, 10 pm ET
*Sun, April 26, Vancouver at St. Louis, 8 pm ET
*Tue, April 28, St. Louis at Vancouver

Was the huge signing of Mats Sundin the answer months ago? Is he the answer now? Time will tell with a very intriguing matchup on the way. The Blues are in the playoffs by the skin of the teeth. Injuries all season long didn’t stop them however, and have made them into a very competitive team moving forward. They were 8-1-1 their last 10 games heading into the playoffs and are brimming with confidence. The Canucks will have to benefit from the Sedin Twins to win this series and Luongo will have to continue his hot stretch which include two shutouts last week.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6

Thu, April 16, Calgary at Chicago, 8:30 pm ET
Sat, April 18, Calgary at Chicago
Mon, April 20, Chicago at Calgary, 9:30 pm ET
Wed, April 22, Chicago at Calgary
*Sat, April 25, Calgary at Chicago, 10 pm
*Mon, April 27, Chicago at Calgary
*Wed, April 29, Calgary at Chicago

Goaltending controversies make this a very interesting series. Nikolai Khabibulin, the "Bulin Wall" was all but dealt out of Chi-Town at the beginning of the 08-09 season. In Calgary, Head Coach "Iron Mike" Keenan is no longer a fan of Mikka Kiprusoff, who has yet to find any form of consistency. It’s going to be a battle of the goaltender's but injuries to Calgary and a total nosedive in the standings over the last 15 or 20 games could be costly for the Flames. As long as the young offense in Chicago succeeds in this series, without a doubt the Hawks will stamp a ticket to round 2.

Predicition: Chicago in 6

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