Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Klau Broz's NHL Playoff Predictions, Round 1, Western Conference

By Danny and Jason Klau

The match ups are set, sticks are taped up and the skates are sharpened. It’s Playoff season in the NHL, and for SportzBroz.com, that can only mean one thing: voluminous intelligence from the Klau Broz, Danny and Jason, as they predict the entire NHL Playoff bracket in competition from start to finish! It's their third year in a row competing to see whose hockey acumen is better equipped for NHL prediction glory. Without further ado, let's start things off with the Western Conference Round 1 pickz:

It only seems like a short time ago that we were all sulking during the lockout. To be a fan without a sport, it’s a tough life. But 48 games and a shortened season later we’ve reached the time we’ve all been waiting for: The NHL Playoffs.

1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8 Minnesota Wild

JKlau: Tough matchup for the Wild here. The Blackhawks rolled to winning the President’s Trophy with the best record in the league. The Wild limped into the playoffs, with a 5-9-1 record in April, including a 6-1 loss to the golf course bound Oilers in their second to last game. Surely a disappointing season for the Wild, who made big acquisitions in the offseason but couldn’t get the results they needed on the ice. Still, there is talent there. Nobody on their roster had a dominant season but they have a spread out offense with a few lines that can hurt you. Zach Parise was the leading scorer on the team with 38 points. He was one of seven players with at least 20 points, not including trade deadline acquisition Jason Pomminville, who scored at almost a point per game clip in the 10 games he’s played in Minny. Mikko Koivu is very talented and Ryan Suter is a beast from the backend. He averaged 27 minutes of ice time per game and he may be asked to shoulder a bigger burden against the 'Hawks.

As spread out as the offense in Minnesota is, the Blackhawks’s is simply better. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead the offense, and Marian Hossa plays second fiddle. Quite the source for secondary scoring. Patrick Sharp missed some time this year but the team didn’t miss a beat. Brandon Saad is a young gun on a team that looks very similar to their cup winning team from just a few years ago.

In net, Niklas Backstrom is just as good, if not better than Corey Crawford/Ray Emery, however, the Chicago goalies had career years, and certainly benefited from playing on a team that is so dominant offensively that they don’t tend to face many chances.

Chicago for sure in this series, the only question is how many games will it take? They beat the Hawks in a shootout early in the year, during the infamous Chicago streak, but I don’t see them pulling one out this series.

B’Hawks in 4 games, quick and easy.

DKlau: Minnesota enters the 2013 NHL Playoffs in the midst of a slump. After getting hot in the month of March to put themselves into contention, Minnesota crawled into the playoffs, going just 5-8-1 in the month of April. They were, however, able to secure the last spot in the West by beating Colorado on the final day of the season - breaking the hearts of the Columbus Blue Jackets who were on the short end of a tiebreaker. Minnesota are led by proven playoff performer Zach Parise, in his first (half) year with the club. Parise was part of an offseason spending spree that also saw defenseman Ryan Suter suit up in Minnesota. Suter had a statistically impressive year, leading his team in assists. If the Wild are to stand a chance in this series, they'll have to stay out of the penalty box. Minnesota were the least penalized team in the NHL this season, but they are coming up against a Chicago side that has been deadly on the Power Play.

Chicago started off this strike-shortened season in historic fashion, getting a point in their first 24 games. They are led by the dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews - both tied for 2nd in the Western Conference with 23 goals scored. Marian Hossa's 17 goals served as a nice compliment to the top pair. As powerful as the Blackhawks are up front, it has been their defense that has lead to their success this year. The President's Trophy winners allowed a league low 97 goals this season. Ray Emery, Chicago's backup goalie finished the year with a 17-1 record. Corey Crawford will likely start most, if not all playoff games for Chicago. Look for secondary scoring from the likes of Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad.

In the end, Chicago is much too deep for Minnesota to contend with. Last year's 8th seed in the West shocked the world by winning the cup. This year's 8 seed does not have the depth to contend.

Chicago in 4.

2 Anaheim Ducks vs. 7 Detroit Red Wings

JKlau: Detroit clinched their 22nd consecutive playoff appearance with a win in Dallas, and boy is new captain Henrik Zetterberg relieved. Imagine being the one captain to break that streak? That would be tough to deal with. But now that they are in, they have a tough matchup with the Anaheim Ducks. Still, you can never count out the Red Wings when it comes to playoff hockey. Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are a dynamic duo that can never be counted out. It’s an achievement in itself to just make the playoffs, specifically after losing all the great players they have lost over the past few years. Niklas Lidstrom’s shoes are big ones to fill, both for captain Zetterberg and for the defense he left behind.

Behind head coach Bruce “insert expletive here: ____” Boudreau, the Ducks have risen from a team that before the season would have been happy to make the playoffs, into a true cup contender. A potent offense, with eight players notching 20 points, the Ducks are a force to be reckoned with. Defenseman Sheldon Souray has resurrected his career in Anaheim, as part of a blueline corps that might not have any superstars, but certainly gets the job done. In net, Fasth and Hiller have both been as steady as can be.

It should be a good series. Both teams are tough opponents with Stanley Cup winning experience. But I have to go with Anaheim on this one.

Anaheim in 7.

DKlau: Anaheim was very quietly one of the best teams in the league during the regular season, using a very balanced scoring attack including a power play that was 4th in the NHL. They weren't exactly gifted with a soft first-round matchup, drawing an all-too familiar playoff foe in the Detroit Red Wings. Head coach Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks have everything to prove.

They employed a goalie by committee tandem of Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller, both splitting time throughout the season. Though it has been determined who will be in net, Bruce Boudreau wont say who will get the start in Tuesday's Game 1. Whoever it is will be opposite Detroit's Jimmy Howard in net, who was nothing short of stellar in Detroit's late postseason push. The netminder posted 3 shutouts in The Red Wing's last 7 games to ensure the team's 22nd consecutive playoff appearance.

This looks to be a close call on paper, with many thinking Detroit to be the sexy pick as a possible upset. But Anaheim have a deep and talented squad that are well rested and primed for a playoff run. Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, and Sheldon Souray provide the proven veteran experience, while still getting the high scoring capabilities of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Andrew Cogliano. Detroit answer with a proven squad of their own, and the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will have to carry the team. Detroit will look for secondary scoring from the likes of Johan Franzen, Justin Abdelkader, and Damien Brunner - who could stand to be the wild card in this series. The 27-year-old rookie started off 2013 with a bang but began to falter when March came around.

Anaheim in 7.

3 Vancouver Canucks vs. 6 San Jose Sharks

JKlau: The Vancouver Canucks get the bulk of their offense from the Sedin twins, but there is talent there to provide secondary scoring. Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler provide big offense from the blue line, while Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows chip in more than their fair share. Deadline acquisition Derek Roy came over from Dallas and has fit in fine. Roberto Luongo might be on his way out soon, but if Schneider can’t step in and get it done Berto’s capable of getting the job done. The ‘Nucks will hope that gritty guys like Zack Kassian and Maxim Lapierre will step up in the playoffs. If they can get contributions from those guys they are going to be a tough team to beat.

The San Jose Sharks have gotten as far as they have by not giving up goals. They’ve given up the 3rd least amount in their conference, while only scoring the 10th most in the West. A team with offensive guns like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle on the blueline, really should be better. The Sharks have a history of not living up to their high standards in the playoffs, but this year, as a 6th seed, things might be a little bit different. They aren’t expected to win a cup and less pressure might help them. However, they sold off some key players, moving tough defenseman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh and gritty forward Ryan Clowe to the New York Rangers. The grit that they got rid of might be missed in the playoffs, where it becomes an absolute necessity. Still, the Sharks have a talented team capable of pulling off an upset here. Niemi is a quality goaltender and is capable of taking this series. I think the big guns in San Jose are capable of stepping up and I smell an upset.

San Jose in 7.

DKlau: An intriguing matchup between two teams that haven't exactly stormed into these playoffs, and two teams that have long and frustrating histories of playoff failures. Vancouver would very much like to do away with the memory of last year's playoffs, which saw the then-President's Trophy winners dispatched in just five games by eventual champions Los Angeles.

Cory Schneider will be in net for Vancouver, who put up Vezina-type numbers all year while dealing with the media attention brought about by his struggling backup. The Sedin twins lead a scoring attack that will have to improve on its Power Play if the Canucks are to sustain any type of playoff run. It will be no easy task as they are drawn against a San Jose penalty kill that ranked 2nd in the Western Conference. That impressive PK was lead by Stanley Cup winning netminder Anti Niemi, who will look to lead his team to glory as he did with Chicago in 2010. Former first overall Draft Pick Joe Thornton knows you only get so many chances to play for The Cup, and will have his side ready. San Jose are a top heavy side with most of their goals coming from their top 3 scorers in Logan Cotoure, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau. That may be enough to squeak out of the first round.

San Jose in 7.

4 St. Louis Blues vs. 5 L.A Kings

JKlau: The St. Louis Blues are a peculiar team. I think the hockey world has been waiting for their big break out for a while now, and perhaps this is the year. Chris Stewart is a very talented player, and David Backes puts up points and plays a blue collar game.  Alex Steen is a reliable goal scorer, and the Blues are hoping David Perron continues to improve. T.J Oshie has the potential to be a key player in the playoffs. On defense, standouts Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo both play a strong two-way game. They should play big minutes these playoffs. Goaltending has been inconsistent. They’ve rolled with 3 goalies, with Brian Elliot playing half of the games, and Jake Allen and Jaroslav Halak splitting the rest. Halak has proven himself in the playoffs, with Montreal where he showed some stellar postseason play, but his play this year has been subpar. Elliot should get the nod for the playoffs but even his game, after a superb season last year, needs to improve.

The Kings are set to defend their improbable Stanley Cup title, and they have the team to do it. Anze Kopitar is a dominant forward and a full year of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter together has paid dividends for the Kings. Justin Williams has had a great year and defenseman Slava Voynov has turned into something great. Drew Doughty is as good as always and the Kings will expect big things from him again. He plays about half of every game and don’t expect that to change. Dustin Penner earned his way back into the good graces of Kings fans with a strong playoff performance last year, and he’ll look to step up again this postseason.  In net, Jonathan Quick is a very dependable goalie, and although he couldn’t replicate his stellar 2012 season, he still has proved to be very valuable. Backup goalie Jonathan Bernier has shown flashes of the potential the Kings saw when they made him a first round pick almost seven years ago, and he’s been pushing Quick for more playing time. With that said, Quick will certainly get the nod and has proven his ability to come through in the clutch.

This one should be a good series, but I don’t foresee the Kings cup defense only lasting one round. Goaltending should make a big difference here.

Kings in 6.

DKlau: Los Angeles will not fly under anyone's radar, as they did last season when they rode the eight seed all the way to Stanley Cup glory.

The St. Louis Blues proved to be a top team in the west despite a 90.2 save percentage, and they were able to do this because they allowed the 2nd lowest SOG against in the league. This will have to translate into postseason success, as very few teams can make it far in the playoffs with the kind of goaltending that Brian Elliot has provided this season. Ken Hitchcock's men will have to continue to do a good job of staying out of the Penalty Box if they are to remain competitive. They will retain the service of top-defensemen Barret Jackman, who is coming off a minor ankle injury.

The Kings will likely lead off with Jonathan Quick in goal, although one must imagine he would be on a short leash, having been outplayed by backup Jonathan Bernier for most of the season. Captain Dustin Brown will lead the defending champs against a side that was resurrected once Ken Hitchcock took over after a 6-7 start. The Kings do score enough goals, and have the insurance in goal in case things turn sour for Quick, so they have a slight edge in this matchup.

LA in 6.