Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: 1st Round

Musings of a Caps Fan's previews of the Eastern Conference playoffs, first round.

San Jose Sharks (#1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (#8)
The San Jose Sharks set out into the playoffs this year looking to correct over a decade of post season issues. This franchise, frankly, has never been successful in the playoffs, even with some of the biggest stars around, such as Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton. Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche are just happy to be here. After starting out the season strong, behind the play of goalie Craig Anderson, the Avalanche have cooled down a bit and just managed a playoff spot. Some notes;

  • The common, and accepted, view on the Sharks is that they choke in the playoffs. Evgeni Nabokov's choke for Team Russia at the Olympics did little to easy fans about the post season. He will have to do very well, or risk not being resigned.
  • The Colorado Avalanche are just looking for a good base to go off of for next season; hopefully, rookie Matt Duchene and Craig Anderson play well and set the Avalanche up for success next year.

Prediction: Sharks in 5; Colorado has had a great season, but if their recent struggles indicate anything, it's game over for Colorado. Better luck next time!

Chicago Blackhawks (#2) vs. Nashville Predators (#7)
In a matchup of Central Division rivals, the defense-minded Nashville Predators meet the Chicago Blackhawks, who have goalie issues. Both teams have a good defense, but Chicago has the offensive edge. Expect low-scoring games. Some notes:

  • Due to Chicago's offensive potency, for Nashville to have a chance, Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne will have to stop nearly everything that the defense lets through. Of course, Nashville's defense is also excellent, so he doesn't necessarily have to be lights-out for the wins.
  • Chicago's defense is among the best in the NHL, but with top-4 defenseman Brian Cambell still out, they won't be at the top of their game. Finnish rookie goaltender, Antii Niemi, will have to be great in the crease. Chicago has no dependable backup, because the next in line is Cristobal Huet and his sub-.900 save percentage.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6; in this battle of divisional rivals, it will probably come down to the goalies. If Chicago's defense is lacking, Antii Niemi will have to stop whatever comes his way, because chances are Pekka Rinne will be doing the same thing at the other end of the rink. However, in the end the offense will win this for Chicago.

Vancouver Canucks (#3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (#6)
The Canucks and Kings are both capable in the offensive sense. Both are also good in the defensive sense. Both have Olympic goaltenders. Can you say toss-up?? Some notes:

  • The Kings have a slight advantage as far as defense goes; they'll need it, as the 'Nucks have the Swedish Sedin twins, capable of scoring multiple goals between themselves each night.
  • However, as far as offensive depth goes, I feel the 'Nucks are lacking....
  • Both teams have Olympic goaltenders on their rosters; the Canucks have Canadian Roberto Luongo, star of the Canadian Olympic team's gold medal run, after taking over from Martin Broduer. The Kings have Jonathan Quick, 3rd goalie for the USA Olympic team.
  • But, as far as goaltending options go, the Kings definitely have the upper hand, with goalie Jonathan Bernier waiting in the AHL. He's been great when called up, and the Kings could pull a Varlamov should Quick falter. Yes, I've made up a verb.... "pull a Varlamov".

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7; in the end, the superior defense of the Kings, as well as better goaltending options, coupled with Roberto Luongo's recent up-and-down level of play.... will do the Canucks and their lack of depth in no matter how much the Sedins score.

Phoenix Coyotes (#4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (#5)
The Coyotes have had one of the biggest turnarounds in NHL history, with a 4th seed and contending for the Pacific Division title a year after declaring bankruptcy and finishing in the NHL basement. Their reward? The red-hot Detroit Red Wings. After having insane amounts of injuries to start the season, the finally-healthy Red Wings charged into the playoffs, for the 19th straight year.Some notes:

  • The only chance in the world that the Coyotes have to stop Detroit rests with Ilya Byrzagalov, Russian netminder, and his ability to stop the puck. If he can't do it, nobody can.
  • However, there is the possibility that Red Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard, will react in a negative way to the pressure of the playoffs.
  • Or the 'Wings could just get injured again.

Prediction: Red Wings in 6; I hate to see Phoenix fall so quickly, but I have a hard time seeing anybody short of the Chicago Blackhawks stopping the Detroit Red Wings from going to their 3rd straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance. And Chicago would need a full 7 games for that. Phoenix? Nope, no chance.

Playoffs start tonight, 7PM. Get ready….. “history will be made.”

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