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The Western Conference probably had the most exciting close to the regular season in terms of undecided NHL playoff implications. The field is tight. However, the field is led by this year’s runaway powerhouse – the Vancouver Canucks. Here’s the quick-and-dirty look at the Western Conference Round 1 match-ups for the 2011 NHL Playoffs.

Western Conference

#1 Seed Vancouver hosting the #8 Seed Chicago Blackhawks

While the defending Stanley Cup Champions from 2010, this team is a far cry from the Chicago Blackhawks from last year. And, they’re about to insert their collective heads into hockey’s equivalent of a wood chipper in the Vancouver Canucks. Wholesale changes have doomed the Blackhawks to a likely quick and embarrassing exit from this round of the playoffs. Long gone are Stanley Cup impact players including Annti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, and Andrew Ladd. You can’t jettison that many players from a Stanley Cup crew and expect to make your way back there the following year.

Vancouver was like a runaway freight train en route to the President’s Trophy for 2011 for the best record in the entire NHL with 56 wins. The Canucks don’t appear to have a single “chink” in their proverbial armor. Best in scoring, best in defense, best powerplay. They would have scored the “quadrifecta” if not for finishing a mere third in penalty-killing. If this isn’t an embarrassing broom-fest, I’ll be shocked.

Vancouver Canucks have already swept this series.

#2 Seed San Jose Sharks hosting the #7 Seed Los Angeles Kings

Don’t look now, but the San Jose Sharks have been another sizzler down the stretch in 2011. And while many spoke of the aforementioned Antti Niemi, even during his Stanley Cup 2010 run as if he were unworthy of accolades, 26 wins in a stretch of 34 straight games (4 ties, 4 losses) effectively provides an emphatic punch-in-the-mouth to his detractors.

The loss of both Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams to injury has likely killed any chance the Los Angeles Kings had of defeating the San Jose Sharks. Kopitar is out for the season while Williams could be back as early as next round if they advance. They won’t.

San Jose Sharks take this series.

#3 Seed Detroit Red Wings hosting the # 6 Seed Phoenix Coyotes

The offensive powerhouse Detroit Red Wings (2nd in scoring) should smoke the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes mediocre scoring defense combined with a particularly sucky penalty-killing unit should collapse like a house-of-cards caught in a tornado.

Detroit’s offensive depth, vast playoff experience, and power-play effectiveness spells certain doom for the skaters out in the desert region. While some would point to a suspect goaltending tandem in Jimmy Howard and Joe MacDonald as an achilles’ heel, don’t expect that a punchless Phoenix Coyotes team is going to be the ones to exploit it. Not this round.

Detroit Red Wings will advance to the 2nd round.

#4 Anaheim Ducks hosting the #5 Nashville Predators

This series gets my nod as the most exciting in terms of great hockey play. These two teams provide the closest competition to one another than any other series in the Western Conference.

While the Anaheim Ducks outscored the Nashville Predators by an impressive 20 goals over the course of the season, they also managed to give up a healthy 41 more goals than the Predators. The Ducks have the “hot shot” top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. The Nashville Predators play the classic team game which sees the offense spread around.

At even strength, the Predators do a great job of holding their own and actually perform better than this round’s opponent in Anaheim. It’s on the special teams where they falter in both power-play and penalty-killing. Shockingly, it would seem that the Predators would do well to avoid getting penalties or drawing penalties against this Ducks team.

I would love to give the MIGHTY Ducks the nod in this one, but with their goaltending situation in flux and the Predators anchored by an impressive (in stature and game play) Pekka Rinne – I’m going to err on the side of the Nashville Predators.

My Western Conference Round 1 Final Four: Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators.