Blues' Murray breaks down first round
Last season, we saw the West's top four seeds bounced in the first round. This season, we could see more craziness as there is no shortage of great playoff teams.
To help set the stage for hockey's second season, we called on one of hockey's great minds, the man who helped turn around St. Louis' season, Blues coach Andy Murray.
We asked Murray to make some first-round predictions, but he declined, saying he thinks all four series are too close to call.
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Calgary
• Red Wings: Puck movement. Detroit's core of defensemen (Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Chris Chelios) not only has tons of experience but they can all move the puck out of the zone effortlessly. This gives the Wings great puck possession.
• Flames: High grit level and high level of skill. I think some people are surprised at the skill level of Calgary. They shouldn't be. The team has addressed its needs and has great balance. With guys like Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius, and then adding Craig Conroy, the Flames enhanced the skill level up front, and they are very solid on the blue line, too.
• Red Wings: Depth on blue line. Without Niklas Kronwall (who is injured), this could maybe become an issue. It's possibly a concern, but still too early to tell.
• Flames: Goaltending. They have one of the best goalies in the league, and he needs to play like one of the best goalies in the league. Kiprusoff needs to be Kiprusoff.
• Red Wings: Kyle Calder. He's a pigpen kind of guy who is always around the net and can score some surprising goals.
• Flames: Craig Conroy. The last time Calgary went to the finals, he was one of the Flames best players. He scored a lot of points.
No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Minnesota
• Ducks: Defense. They have four No. 1 defensemen because Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer play the same amount of minutes as four other defensemen would normally play. Every time you look on the ice, either Pronger or Niedermayer is out there.
• Wild: Structure. They have incredible consistent team play from unit to unit. Whether they are on special teams, at even strength, using line one or line four, they have solid consistent play.
• Ducks: Discipline. They are a very physical team. They will need to be smart with their physicality.
• Wild: Health. Their top six forwards need to stay healthy. The Wild lean heavily on these guys, so they need to be available.
• Ducks: Dustin Penner. When you're that big, you are tough to handle when you're on top of your game. Plus, he's from Manitoba, just like me!
• Wild: Wes Walz. He plays against the other teams' top players all the time and does well. So, if he can neutralize the other teams' best players, that's a huge impact.
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Dallas
• Canucks: Goaltending. Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the Western Conference. He can take a team a long way if he keeps playing the way he has all season.
• Stars: Desire. I think they are hungry for success. Dallas has some of the league's most passionate players, and that's important this time of year.
• Canucks: Scoring depth. I'm not sure about this. I would say this is possibly an area of concern, though.
• Stars: Production from blue line. They have two of the most productive defensemen in the league. They need to get continued offense from both Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher because their forwards don't score that much.
• Canucks: Trevor Linden. I like him. He's strong and has experience.
• Stars: Mike Modano. He will always be the X factor for this team. He's their best player, and they go as he goes.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San Jose
• Predators: Speed. Their whole team is incredibly quick, particularly on the blue line.
• Sharks: Youthful enthusiasm. The whole team is young, excited and really anxious to make their mark this postseason.
• Predators: Health. Steve Sullivan is one of their top players, and they need him healthy. He's an important part of how they run their offensive attacks.
• Sharks: Youthful enthusiasm. Just like it can work for you, it can work against you. They need to be able to stay focused, and that will be the coaches' jobs to keep them in check.
• Predators: Paul Kariya. I think he has been great since he has been in Nashville, and this year he was exceptional. So, I see him as a game-breaker for the Preds.
• Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov. He has to be on his game. He has been very strong this year, and the Sharks will need him to play even better in the playoffs.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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