By Rob Kotaska
Once upon a time the Western Conference of the NHL was truly wild. Finesse, flash, and franchise-elevating-forwards were the key to the Cup. Yzerman, Zetterberg, Toews, you could not make it West of Columbus unless you had a robust scoring machine. All the teams had competent defense and goal tending, but it was the forwards that put that shine on the Cup.
Like Missy Elliot this year the West flipped and reversed it.
When you got through all the bush league hitting: defense and goal tending were king. There is a changing of the guard in the Conference as Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix and St. Louis are in the 2nd round, each dispatching a regular favorite. One of them will be playing for the Cup, that is amazing. Once again I displayed my Kreskian skills of prognostication; I had only one of them moving on (Nashville).
Who were the key players for each team?
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick took the next step. He played so well in the first two games he forced the Canucks into swapping goalies even though Luongo was not the main problem. He finished off the series with a 26 save performance that included stoning a Sedin on a breakaway. Which one? Who cares, they both again proved to be Stay-Puft soft.
Honorable Mention: Dustin Brown, Ithaca native. He potted two shorthanded goals in game 1 and it was all downhill from there in BC.
Nashville: Pekka Rinne shook off his late season swoon and singlehandedly knocked out both this year’s and this dynasties version of the Red Wings. Three games with 35 plus saves…Hasek-like stuff there.
Phoenix: Mike Smith was who the Lightning thought he was when they gave up Brad Richards for him back in 2008. Unfortunately for them he was a sieve… who was rebuilt by the goalie coach my little brother Andrew nicknamed “The Sieve”, Sean Burke. Kotaska irony there…
Honorable mention: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. At 20 he played with a poise beyond his years. His play had me thinking, “future Norris Trophy winner”.
St. Louis: As good as Brian Elliot was in net, Andy McDonald (Cup Winner) was the guy who propelled the Blues into an easy series win. There is little doubt the Blues system would have won out, especially with the strong play in net. But McDonald, who was on the shelf with a concussion for most of the season, scored 8 points in 5 games.
I wasn’t really prepared to pick the next round with who went forward. One thing is for sure, take the under in these series.
Get more great sports analysis over at Contrarian Fanatics.