Chicago remains the betting choice to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in four years at Even money out of the West. Los Angeles, the defending champs, is at +250, followed closely by San Jose at +350. Detroit is still Detroit and is at +700 to make the Finals. Here is a preview of each West series with a prediction.
(1) Chicago vs. (7) Detroit
This is one of two Original Six matchups in the Elite 8 and it could quite awhile before we this happen again in the postseason. Detroit is headed to the Eastern Conference, but has given one last hurrah to their enemies in the West.
Any conversation concerning Detroit in the present tense revolves around three players, forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and netminder Jimmy Howard. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still top shelf performers, who take great pride in being two-way players. How coach Mike Babcock utilizes this dynamic duo will carry importance, as he paired them together for the first six games against Anaheim and split them for the all important Game 7 victory.
The Red Wings defensemen are not the vintage group which has been on the ice for the better part of two decades, but they still have ability like Niklas Kronwall. This contingent will have to step up to support Howard, who will see a roster full of sharp shooters from Chicago.
Speaking of sharp, nobody had a bigger impact in the Blackhawks opening series triumph than Patrick Sharp. His five goals led Chicago and they did not even receive a goal from their top performers Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane against Minnesota, making them more dangerous looking ahead, as eventually they will bust loose. Since the Hawks are facing Chicago, what about former Red Wing Marian Hossa, who would like a hand in knocking off his old club.
On the defensive end, Duncan Keith receives most of the accolades and deservedly so. Nevertheless, coach Joel Quenneville has a good collection of mix and match defenders to play against different styles. Corey Crawford proved he could handle the No. 1 goalie spot against the Wild when his running mate Ray Emery was unable to go due to injury. With Emery expected back some time during this series, Chicago becomes even stronger in goal, while Crawford’s confidence soars.
In many ways, this does not appear to be much of a series, with Chicago having dumped Detroit all four times they met. The Red Wings chances ride with its stars and young defensemen to support Howard. The Blackhawks have the right pieces to run away with this series, but because it’s Detroit, we will add one game.
S-W Selection – Chicago (-320) in six over Detroit (+260)
(5) Los Angeles vs. (6) San Jose
Though these two California clubs have been long time regular season rivals, this will mark just the second time they have met in the postseason.
Los Angeles is the defending Cup champions and after a slow start, put together four clutch wins in a row to send St. Louis packing and advance. With the Kings having won a fifth consecutive series without the home ice advantage, they will have the unusual feeling of trying to grab the lead playing at the Staples Center.
With their 0-2 comeback, the Kings will be extremely confident. Jeff Carter was sensational against the Blues and Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner proved they like the hot lights and the pressure. Defenseman Drew Doughty is a creative playmaker from the back line and Robyn Regehr is the perfect complement to Doughty with the ground he can cover defensively. Goalie Jonathan Quick had a rugged start against the Blues, but regained his mojo and limited the Blues to six goals in the final four contests, all one goal victories.
San Jose was the last team to knock the Kings out of the playoffs, two years ago. The Sharks have been chasing what Los Angeles earned last year, the Cup. While this might not be the best San Jose team in the past decade from a top end talent perspective, it could be the most balanced. Coach Todd McLellan rolls out three lines and the differences are minimal at this juncture, making them challenging to defend. The Sharks used to depend on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, however, this has changed and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are more driving forces with Thornton and Marleau terrific complementary players.
Puck stopper Antti Niemi was awesome in the sweep of Vancouver and has a solid group of defensemen in front of him. He’s 29-19 in the playoffs and put him between the pipes in OT, he’s an extraordinary 11-2.
Like a boxing champion, Los Angeles will have to be beaten to give up the title. The Kings do not beat themselves and have won 10 straight home games (22-5 SU this season). San Jose has the players to do the job and split four games with L.A. (home team won each matchup) Because of the home ice, the Kings get the call in a terrific series.
S-W Selection – Los Angeles (-150) in seven over San Jose (+130)