Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Western Conference Playoff Previews

(1) San Jose vs. (5) Detroit

Season Series: 3-1 Detroit

Once again the San Jose Sharks will have a chance to prove they can win in the playoffs, but standing in their way are the defending Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings.

The Low down on the San Jose Sharks: What was most impressive about the Sharks first round victory over Colorado was the secondary scoring from Joe Pavelski(5 goals), Devin Setoguchi(3 goals), and Ryan Clowe, who led the Sharks in points with eight. In years past, San Jose has relied solely on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who once again struggled in round one. If San Jose continues to get production from the second line, and the big three of Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley step up, then the Sharks are in good shape offensively. The Sharks also got contributions from grinders Scott Nichol, Logan Couture, and Manny Malhotra in round one which will be needed even more against Detroit. Defensively, aside from game two which they gave up 5 goals to Colorado, they limited the Avalanche offense to only six goals the rest of the series. Dan Boyle averaged almost 27 minutes of ice time in Round One and is paired with the bruising Douglas Murray. They will be assigned the duty of stopping Pavel Datsyuk and company. Evgeni Nabokov had a brilliant series as well, and when he is on he is one of the leagues best. Head coach Todd McLellan knows the Wings well from being an assistant coach to Mike Babcock two years ago.

The Low Down on the Detroit Red Wings: The Stanley Cup Champions two years ago, and they were one game away from winning the Cup last season. Experienced veterans and proven winners throughout the Wings lineup. Most importantly, this team is completely healthy and has been the best team in hockey since the Olympic break. Henrik Zetterberg led the Wings in scoring against Phoenix by registering 11 points in seven games. The usual suspects, Franzen, Datsyuk, Filppula, Lidstrom, all seem to be hitting thier strides at the right time. The Coyotes did manage to take Detroit to seven games and were leading the series 2-1 at one point, but managed only 7 goals in the next four games. Perhaps this is not the strongest Wings team we have seen, but the fact that they are healthy and confident presents a challenge to San Jose. Nicklas Lidstrom continues to lead the team in ice time, and Brad Stuart had a strong series against Phoenix posting a team best +6. I would expect the Thornton line to see lots of Niklas Kronwall who is the Red Wings shut down defensemen. Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard made some mistakes as expected, but overall played well and posted a shutout in the pivotal Game 4.

The Pick: This series is a toss up, but I like the Sharks in seven. I like the way Evgeni Nabokov and the Sharks defense is playing and wonder how much Detroit has in the tank after a tough seven game series with Phoenix.

(2) Chicago vs. (3) Vancouver

Season Series: 2-2 split

For the second time in two seasons the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks will renew acquaintances in Round 2 as the Canucks will look to avenge last seasons defeat to the Blackhawks. Plenty of animosity exists between these two teams who are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and their seasons would be considered a disappointment should they be eliminated in the second round.

The low down on the Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago is coming off a first round series victory over Nashville in which they trailed the series 2-1, but gained confidence as the series went on and finished off the Predators in six games. Jonathan Toews
led the Hawks balanced attack against Nashville by scoring 8 points in six games. Chicago is the most skilled and deepest team offensively in the playoffs which may present problems for Vancouver's blue line which was exposed at times by the Los Angeles Kings in round one. One player that goes under the radar due to the fact that Chicago has so many star players, is Tomas Kopecky who had a terrific series against Nashville. Both these clubs are among the league's best in offense and it may boil down to which team gets more contributions from the third and fourth lines. Expect to see Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook match up against the Sedin line for Vancouver. Chicago is just as deep overall on defense, especially since Brian Campbell is back from injury. Antti Niemi put up solid numbers in goal versus Nashville posting a 2.15 GAA and a .92 save percentage. Chicago killed off 26 of 27 Nashville power plays in round one but continued to struggle on the power play, just as they did in the regular season.

The low down on the Vancouver Canucks: Led by the NHL's leading scorer and Hart trophy finalist Henrik Sedin, the Canucks also possess a dynamic offense. Forward, Mikael Samuelsson scored 7 goals in six games against LA, and after being moved to the Sedin line in Game Four, they proved to be unstoppable. Secondary scorers such as Steve Bernier(4 goals), Pavol Demitra(5 points), and Kyle Wellwood(3 points), played better as the series went on. Although Alex Burrows struggled to score in the LA series, he was a 35 goal scorer during the regular season which adds to Vancouver's lethal attack. However, the defense has some issues especially after their top four. Salo, Bieksa, Edler, and Ehrhoff are solid, but after that is a huge drop off. The big question is whether they are deep enough to handle what the Blackhawks will throw at them. Roberto Luongo picked up his game after being pulled in Game Three at Los Angeles, and made a highlight reel of saves. He will be looking to avenge the nightmare series he had against the Hawks last season when he gave up 7 goals in Game Six which ended the Canucks season. Vancouver had tons of trouble killing penalties in the LA series, but seemed to fix their issues in the final game. No team in the playoffs has had more success at home this year than the Vancouver Canucks.

The Pick: Chicago in Seven

This is another series that is a toss up. The fact that Chicago is deeper on defense appears to be the reason why they should advance to the Western Conference Finals.

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