As is customary, I'm posting half of my picks after the playoffs already started. I swear, though, I picked these before they played.
The best teams in the West are Vancouver, Detroit, and Nashville, but because of matchups only one of them will likely make it to the Conference Finals. As a result, I predict a very anticlimactic Western Conference Final featuring Vancouver and Phoenix. Go Yotes?
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Everyone knows the Kings' story this year: they can't score on you, and you can't score on them. Defensively, Vancouver has similar numbers, though LA does have a slight edge. Offensively, Vancouver should blow them out of the water. A low-scoring series benefits the Kings, but Vancouver can play that game, too, if they need to. Vancouver lets up more shots than LA, so they need the good Luongo to show up. If he does, the Kings can't win.
Vancouver in 6
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
St. Louis is good, but painfully bottom-heavy. San Jose is more balanced in that they're mediocre at everything except the penalty kill, which they are awful at. The Sharks don't have the goaltending to win a defensive battle, but don't quite have the offense to make this series anything else. They lack scoring past their first line, which is why they score over 25% of their goals on the powerplay. This series will be boring and I'm planning on watching exactly none of it.
St. Louis in 7
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
I've seen a lot of people picking Chicago in this series, which baffles me. Statistically speaking, they're the worst team in the playoffs. They've got the 5th best offense in the NHL, but are near the bottom of the league in pretty much everything else. Phoenix isn't a great team by any means, but they have a solid goaltender and their scoring at even strength is nearly as good as Chicago's. Now that Ulf Samuelsson is safely back in Sweden, I don't even feel bad about picking the Coyotes to win.
Phoenix in 5
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Picking this series has given me fits. The more numbers I look at, the more confused I am. Nashville has better special teams, but Detroit gets a lot more powerplay time than they give up. Detroit is better at even strength, but they lack quality goaltending. That's all right, though, because their shots for/against ratio is fantastic, while Nashville's is the worst in the playoffs. Somehow, though, Nashville has the most balanced scoring out of playoff teams (only 26% of their goals come from their top line). Detroit is second. I give Detroit the edge in this series, but I'm fully prepared to be wrong.
Detroit in 7