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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
I've already made my predictions for the East. These are my BOLD predictions for the Western Conference First Round:

1 San Jose Sharks  vs. 8 Anaheim Ducks:  There is no question that the Sharks are the better team, but Anaheim can be dangerous with the Stanley Cup experience on the roster.  Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Pronger, and Scott Niedermeyer are a strong core for anybody.  Goaltending could be the issue.  J.S. Giguere has not been 100 percent and Jonas Hiller started the final four games of the season for Anaheim.  This has to be the year for San Jose, and I don’t see the first round as a roadblock for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov, and company.

Sharks in 5

2  Detroit Red Wings  vs. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets:  A great story for the league and the fans in Columbus that the team finally made it to the post-season for the first time in franchise history.  Steve Mason is the rookie of the year in the league and could actually garner consideration for league MVP.  

Mason was 3-2 in goal against Detroit this season, but can't match that success in the playoffs against Detroit.  And it is tough to believe that Columbus can withstand the puck possession pressure the Red Wings are known for. 

Detroit in 6

3  Vancouver Canucks vs. 6  St. Louis Blues:    Besides Jay McKee and Keith Tkachuk what do you know about the St. Louis Blues?  The Blues have the best record in the NHL over the second half of the season, an astonishing 24-4-7.  Chris Mason has started 32-straight games and his numbers are solid (.916 save percentage and 2.41 GAA).  Good enough to put Manny Legace on Waivers. 

Brad Boyes has 16 power play goals, and a healthy Andy McDonald also helped the offense.  With all that said, can they beat Vancouver?  The Canucks have offense with five 20-goal scorers led by the Sedin twins, a solid but not flashy defense led by Kevin Bieksa, and a goaltender in Roberto Luongo that many regard to be the best in the NHL.  Luongo won 33 games this year despite playing in only 54 due to a groin injury.  It’s also time for Mats Sundin to prove he was worth the money and hype.

Canucks in 5

4  Chicago Blackhawks vs.  5 Calgary Flames:   I wish I could cover this series, because beside Buffalo, these are my two favorite cities in the NHL.  However, it may not be much of a series.  The Flames have excellent goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, but he has to be run down playing in 76 games this year because the Flames couldn’t win without him.  He has 45 of the 46 Calgary victories. 

Calgary also has firepower with Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalieri, and Ollie Jokinen.  Reading that, you’re wondering why I don’t think it will be much of a series?  Chicago dominated the regular season series winning all four games.  That is something not to be overlooked.  We all will be rooting for Patrick Kane and Brian Campbell, but I think some other Blackhawks will be the difference makers. 

Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat watched Kane, Campbell, and Jonathan Toews grab the headlines, but put up great numbers.  Sharp potted 26 goals, while Havlat was the teams leading scorer with 77, including 29 goals.   With all apologies to Soupy, Duncan Keith is the Hawks best defenseman and Brent Seabrook is no slouch at both ends of the ice.  Nikolai Khabibulin rebounded from injury to have a nice season with 25 wins, and Christobal Huet was also solid with 20 wins. 

Chicago in 6

As always, feel free to send me your thoughts.
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