VANCOUVER CANADA - JANUARY 4: Mikael Samuelsson #26 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with Henrik Sedin #33 and Daniel Sedin #22 after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period in NHL action on February 04 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver British Columbia Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Canucks Vs. Blackhawks, Sharks Vs. Kings, Red Wings Vs. Coyotes, Ducks Vs. Predators

Stephen Catanese and Jimmy Rixner predict the outcomes of the Western Conference first-round playoff matchups.

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NHL Playoff Predictions 2011: Canucks Vs. Blackhawks, Sharks Vs. Kings, Red Wings Vs. Coyotes, Ducks Vs. Predators

Similar to 2010, the NHL's Western Conference has this season's majority of contenders and legitimate dark horses. Will this finally be Vancouver's year?

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Stephen Catanese says:

Vancouver is one of the most balanced teams, top to bottom, in the NHL. Even dealing with a myriad of injuries to their blueline throughout the season, they have excelled. Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champions have fallen off of the map, victims of the NHL's salary cap. Roberto Luongo won't be a factor in this series because it won't even be that close. Canucks in five.

Jimmy Rixner says:

Chicago usually has Vancouver's number, but this is the year that the tide turns. Roberto Luongo, typically embattled during post-season play, will break through in this series and the Canucks will show why they were the top team in the NHL's regular season. The defending Stanley Cup champs had a rough year, and they'll find there's no magical switch they can hit to re-gain their glory. Canucks in six.

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings

Season Series: Tied 3-3

Stephen Catanese says:

This was looking like the season for the Kings to finally make some noise in the playoffs. Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar were improving rapidly while the Kings' veteran core remained impressive. Instead, Doughty took a step back, Kopitar suffered a bad injury and Los Angeles enters the playoffs reeling. San Jose has been quietly impressive this season. Look for them to make a run, starting here: Sharks in five.

Jimmy Rixner says:

Seemingly every year San Jose teases fans with playoff success before grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. That may happen this year, but it's not going to happen in the first round. Logan Couture and Antti Niemi give the Sharks enough new blood to forget about past disappointments and take down the L.A. Kings, who will badly miss not having one of their best players in Anze Kopitar due to injury. Sharks in five.

(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes

Season Series: Tied 2-2

Stephen Catanese says:

Last year's playoff tilt between Phoenix and Detroit turned out to be one of the more entertaining series in a long time, with Detroit prevailing in seven games. This year, expect a reversal. The Coyotes have consolidated their power a bit while Detroit has gotten older, lagged a bit. It could all come down to goaltending, and while Jimmy Howard is good, Ilya Bryzgalov is better. Coyotes in seven.

Jimmy Rixner says:

Detroit has very much been a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde team this year and has made several uncharacteristic mistakes in execution. Further, the Red Wings' health has been a mess and star center Henrik Zetterberg is out for at least the first game of the series. Throw in a hard-working, hungry Phoenix team as their opponent, and the fact that the Coyotes have a better goaltender than the Red Wings and I'm smelling an epic upset. Coyotes in seven.

(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators

Season Series: Nashville 3-1

Stephen Catanese ays:

How is this the four vs. five matchup? Two teams that were serious questions to even make the playoffs, Anaheim has flourished behind their top line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan while Teemu Selanne has played well. Meanwhile, Nashville has been the most quietly effective team in the league behind the goaltending of Pekka Rinne. Hard for me to pick a winner, so I'm just going to go with Anaheim on personal bias and a strong finish to the season: Ducks in six.

Jimmy Rixner says:

Quite a contrast here: the Anaheim Ducks have a ton of skill players (Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) but are lacking in depth and defensemen, and starting goalie Jonas Hiller has been injured. The Nashville Predators lack skill players but have great depth, a tremendous defense led by Shea Weber and a top-flight goalie in Pekka Rinne. This is sizzle (Anaheim) versus steak (Nashville). Come crunch time, give me steak. Predators in seven.

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