It’s time to separate the men from the meek as the NHL’s elite 16 gear
up for this year’s playoffs. But with disappointing performances from
Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, it’s up to Montreal, Calgary and
Ottawa to pick up the slack for Canadian Stanley Cup hopes. Here’s a
look at each Western Conference series and how the teams match up.
#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Nashville Predators
Season series: Detroit (5-3-0); Nashville (3-3-0)
A lot has been said about how Nashville battled hard to get the West’s
last playoff spot and how they could surprise a deceptively vulnerable
Detroit, but the Wings are far too loaded with offensive talent such as
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and the recently returned Tomas
Holmstrom to let this series get away from them. Even Detroit’s
blue-liners are a scoring factor with a regular-season tally of 43
goals and 221 points. The challenge for the Preds is to hold down the
fort while players such as J.P. Dumont, Alexander Radulov and Jason
Arnott can exploit the Wings’ injury-plagued and inconsistent
goaltending, but they’ll probably be too busy getting the puck fired at
them to make the attempt.
Prediction: Eager to hit back at the naysayers, Detroit makes an example out of Nashville in five games.
#2 San Jose vs. #7 Calgary Flames
Season series: San Jose (1-2-1); Calgary (3-1-0)
Sharks forward Joe Thornton and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov have been
less than exceptional against the Flames, but they are the hottest team
in the NHL going into the playoffs, and momentum like that is hard to
contain. They also have more depth, which will serve them well should
the series go seven games. A Calgary victory is entirely possible, but
it’s reliant on Jarome Iginla firing on all cylinders and goaltender
Miikka Kiprusoff hitting his springtime stride while Thornton and
Patrick Marleau stay neutralized. It could be one of those series that
gets decided by a really unlikely and unlucky play.
Prediction: San Jose wins in a seven-game heartbreaker. Wails of anguish emanate from the Red Mile.
#3 Minnesota Wild vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche
Season series: Minnesota (5-2-1); Colorado (3-4-1)
Call them New Jersey Devils West. Under coach Jacques Lemaire, the
Wild’s strong goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and defensive style of
play (that won Lemaire a Stanley Cup) should present real problems for
Colorado’s skilled but aging forwards Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. The
Avs’ blue-liners have a little bit more depth than Minnesota and should
tie up Wild forwards Martin Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. Factor in some
recent quality play by Avs goaltender Jose Theodore and the teams seem
like a match for each other, at least at even strength. The real
disparity here is between special teams: Minnesota had the second-best
penalty kill and seventh-best power play in the league. Compare that to
the Avs’ PK and PP rated at 29th and 20th respectively, and it would
appear this series gets decided on penalties.
Prediction: It’s a grinder, but Minny muscles out a win in seven.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Dallas Stars
Season series: Anaheim (3-5-0); Dallas (5-3-0)
Sure, Dallas won the season series, had the best penalty kill in the
league and a great power play, but the Ducks are the champs, and their
assets outnumber the Stars. Ryan Getzlaf is one of the best power
forwards in the NHL, Chris Pronger’s back from his suspension to beef
up an already superior defence and Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a Conn
Smythe Trophy winner. It looks like Dallas is going to have a giant
Sergei Zubov-shaped hole in their defence and goaltender Marty Turco,
valiant though he may be, couldn’t get it done against the Canucks last
year. New Stars’ acquisition Brad Richards has not been the difference
maker he was touted to be since arriving in the Lone Star state.
Prediction: Ducks deal with the Stars in a super-physical six-game series.