Wednesday, April 09, 2008

2008 NHL Playoffs Round I Western Conference

Series E: Detroit Red Wings (54-28; 115 points; 1st Central Division, 1st Western Conference, 1st Overall) vs. Nashville Predators (41-43; 91 points; 2nd Central Division, 8th Western Conference, 17th Overall):

Ho-hum. Another year, another 50+ wins, another Central Division Title, another #1 seed in the Western Conference, and another President's Trophy for Detroit. So why should this year be any different from the last few years? Good question. We're trying to figure that out ourselves. Detroit however did not feast on their weak division this year. Three teams had 20 divisional wins this season and Detroit had a pedestrian 17. The Caps themselves had 18. Detroit should push on through to the second round for no reason other than they're playing the Nashville Predators; who snuck into the Western Conference Playoffs with the worst record of any team making the playoffs. Nashville has never won a playoff series and we see no reason on earth why that is going to change. The Predators did post a respectable 3-5 mark against the Red Wings this season but this is a team who's General Manager is David "Bud" Poile. That's all you really need to know. Detroit in six.

Series F: San Jose Sharks (49-33; 108 points; 1st Pacific Division, 2nd Western Conference, 2nd Overall) vs. Calgary Flames (42-40; 94 points; 3rd Northwest Division, 8th Western Conference, 14th Overall):

Everybody is picking the Sharks to win the Cup and why not? They won a tough Pacific Division, they've got a hot goaltender in Evgeni Nabokov, and they acquired Brian Campbell at the deadline. So why won't the Sharks win the Cup? Well, first of all, there is the Ron Wilson factor and the Jeremy Roenick factor on top of it. Ron Wilson's crowning achievement has been winning the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and since then he's gotten close to winning it all but never gotten over the top. The Sharks had a great chance at the Cup last year and blew it. Now they've got Jeremy Roenick who has never won the Cup and has lead his teams in the opposite direction more often than not in his entire career. We do give credit to Wilson and the Sharks for finally figuring out how to muzzle Roenick but we're still not sold on him being a clutch player. For the first round, the Sharks get Calgary, coached by the well-known maniac Mike Keenan. It is normally Keenan's MO to get his team deep into the playoffs the first couple of years he's there before he quickly burns them out. Calgary's best hope for an upset is for Mikka Kipprusoff to regain his 2004 form and for the offense to consistently click against the 3rd best defense in the league. The longer this series goes, the worse it will be for San Jose and here's another chance for a big first round upset. But we don't quite see it happening. Sharks in five.

Series G: Minnesota Wild (44-38; 98 points; 1st Northwest Division, 3rd Western Conference, 7th Overall) vs. Colorado Avalanche (44-38; 95 points; 2nd Northwest Division, 6th Western Conference, 10th Overall):

Fighting through injuries to key players, the Colorado Avalanche are getting healthy and counting on old (and I do mean old) hands to recapture their former playoff glory. All that is missing is a return of Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque and the Avalanche reunion would be complete. But this isn't the old Minnesota Wild either. These guys have learned the lesson New Jersey refuses to learn and that is you need to score goals in order to win. It also helps Minnesota immensely that they're playing Colorado and not Anaheim in the first round this year. With the injuries and recent shakeup of the Avalanche lineup, the chemistry and polish that teams need to get deep into the playoffs just isn't there. However, this is a tough series to predict when you compare the goaltending matchup of Nicklas Backstrom against Jose Theodore. Neither goaltender has impressive numbers in the playoffs but in Backstrom's defense, he's only been there once. We think we'll go with the Wild in seven.

Series H: Anaheim Thug Ducks (47-35; 102 points; 2nd Pacific Division, 4th Western Conference, 5th Overall) vs. Dallas Stars (45-37; 97 points; 3rd Pacific Division, 5th Western Conference, 8th Overall):

Last year Marty Turco put in a performance in the playoffs that deserved a better outcome. This year he gets to face the second best defensive team in the league in the first round. The good news for Dallas is that Anaheim has the fewest goals for of any of the playoff teams and only two other teams in the NHL scored fewer goals than the Thug Ducks did but that didn't help them against Vancouver last year. Anaheim has weathered the Cup hangover well so far but you have to wonder when the circus sideshows will catch up to them. The Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne sagas which took almost the entire season to resolve for starters. Add in the Ilya Bryzgalov departure and Anaheim has had their fair share of distractions this season before Chris Pronger got suspended ex post facto. They're the Defending Champions and they won't be an easy out for anybody. Dallas made a bold move at the deadline to get Brad Richards who has disappointed after his five point debut (6 points in the next 11 games and is a -2 in his 12 games with the Stars). Dallas will need to be firing on all cylinders to dethrone the Champs. But no Sergei Zubov and Mike Modano slowing down will make their task that much harder. Thug Ducks in four.



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