Apr.14—This conference supplies the most possibilities for surprises (upsets no, not with parity). A few teams that should win could be out. For others, their injuries will be the tale, and still others, suspect goaltending.
Let’s have a look at the matchups and how they’ll do.
The Sharks had the best record in the NHL, look poised to finally get to the Stanley Cup final, and have the horses to do so. This team will have home ice advantage all the way through “The Journey” and “Home” was big with 32 W in 41 games.
The Sharks are lead by some huge talent in Thornton, Marleau, Setoguichi, Pavelski, Boyle, Michalek, and Clowe. Special teams near the top with the PP—third, PK—fifth, and GA—third.
This team's last 10 games were not what would have been expected at 5-4-0-1, but maybe it has to do with their playoff position being firmly secured weeks before the end of the season. Trade day saw them add some Ducks to their roster in Travis Moen and Kent Huskins—now this will be interesting. Head-to-head with the Ducks, they were 4-2.
This team didn’t even look like it would make the playoffs this year, but the trade day changes seem to have added some missing parts and help the depleted D, with Ryan Whitney coming over from Pittsburgh, and James Wisniewski from Chicago.
From there, the Ducks built slowly, but came on strong near the end of the season as they won 11 of their last 15 games to get into the playoffs.
Their PP ranked fifth, which is no surprise with the talent they can put on the ice in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Selanne and Niedermayer and Pronger on D. The PK (23rd) and GA (18th) just will not be strong enough against the Sharks. Both these teams have size, toughness, and the banging will be like giants slugging it out in the pits.
Jonas Hiller should be the Ducks goaltender, and he will have to be lights out to keep them in this contest.
The Sharks in six, as this team looks poised to march to the finals.
This could be a surprise, with the first-time playoff Blue Jackets meeting a talent-laden Red Wing team. Detroit has so many guns to shoot with; they just keep rolling them out with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Hossa, Franzen, Hudler, and Samuelsson. Columbus had better stay out of the penalty box also, as they had the best PP in the league.
The D is led by Norris winner Niklas Lidstrom, supported by Brian Rafalski, and Kronwall. The PK (25th) and GA (20th) could be their Achilles' heel, as Osgood has not had a good year and Conklin could end up being “The Man.” Detroit rrives into the playoffs at 4-5-0-1 and was 3-2-1 against Columbus. Salary cap restrictions did not allow any trade day additions.
For the first time in the team’s history they are in the playoffs and arrived with a 3-3-2-2 in their last 10 games. The big trade at the deadline was obtaining Antoine Vermette from Ottawa in exchange for Pascal Leclaire. Columbus was able to do this because a young rookie sensation in goal named Steve Mason, came on and took over the number one spot. No wonder the Blue Jackets finished ninth in GA and 13th on the PK.
Unfortunately their PP finished dead last at 30th. This is a really strange one when you look at the talent they can put out there. A big unmovable object in Rich Nash, Huselius, Williams, Umberger, Vermette and Tyutin on D. The question will be whether Mason and the PK get hot and stop the number one Wings PP?
I smell a surprise here with Mason topping whoever Detroit has in goal, Columbus in seven games.
Chicago vs. Calgary
This could be war on ice, with an already beat up Flames team on D suffering further losses. Chicago did not lose to the Flames and went 4-0 against them and have home ice.
For the first time since 2002, the Hawks are back in the playoffs and home ice will be loud and proud. Chicago is one of the best fast, tough, young and talented teams in the NHL, with key on young.
Are they ready for the playoffs? I think yes. The lineup just oozes with scorers in Havlat, Kane, Toews, Versteeg, Sharp, and on D, Brian Campbell. In Keith, Barker, and Seabrook, they have the mobility and toughness to make forwards pay the price. Special teams—PP-12th, PK-18th, GA-fifth. Hot coming down the stretch—7-2-0-1. Look out Calgary.
The Flames literally limped into the playoffs (4-6), playing some nights with only 15 skaters, as injuries to the D crippled them. Out were top D Phaneuf, Sarich, and Regehr. They are all expected back to start the playoffs, but how many will finish is the better question against the tough, hard-hitting Hawks.
Leading the Flames, of course, is their warhorse Jarome Iginla. What a captain he is. Cammalleri, Langkow, Moss and injured Rene Bourque expected to return, and support in the scoring, but will it be enough? The special teams—PP-21st, PK-fourth, GA-23rd—just do not look to match up to Chicago in those areas.
Chicago in five, maybe six, if the Calgary D stays healthy for two games.
Vancouver vs. St. Louis
This will pit two of the hottest teams in the second half against each other. In my March 12 blog, the IceMan picked the Blues as my dark horse to make the playoffs and they had already gone 9W, 4L, 1SOL, 1OTL in 15 games. They finished their last 10 games with the best record, 8-1-1.
This team should definitely concern the ‘Nuck Nation. It has speed, toughness, talent, top 10 special teams, and a good mix of veterans (Tkachuk, McDonald, Boyes ) and youth (Backes, Perron, Berglund, Oshie). The word is that Paul Kariya, having only played 11 games this year, may be back for this round. As I mentioned, the special teams look like this: PP-eighth, PK-third, and GA-12th. Their head-to-head meeting was a saw off at 2-2.
This team could surprise if the Canucks do not bring their A game.
The Vancouver Canucks brought their last 10 game record to 6-3-0-1 by virtue of winning their last three games after losing the previous three. Roberto Luongo and the D played what will take them past round one in those last three, had two SO’s, and the other game only allowed one goal. This looks promising for the ‘Nucks, because how Louie and the D goes, so does this team.
As mentioned in many previous blogs, this team has a D scheme that it must play in order to be successful, because the special teams, PP-17th, PK-16th, do not match up with the Blues. Where the advantage happens is in GA-seventh.
As mentioned in the blog ("Are the ‘Nucks Ready?"), the Canucks have the best talent from goal out since the 94 version, and we know how far they went.
The question and key will be….. can the Sedins produce in the playoffs?
The opposition cannot just focus on them anymore, BUT, the Kesler and Magic (Wellwood) line will have to make sure that they contribute to take the top D off the Twins. I think Alex Burrows will help elevate the Twins game and take it to the next level.
With Rick Rypien and Ryan Johnson playing some of their best hockey of the year, this bodes well for the energy, crash, bang line, and the PK, since both of them take spots there also.
If Bobby Lou can keep up his play of late, this team can go far. Canucks have the home ice and a crazy, “FanAttic” advantage. This town is stoked, and so am I!
Although the Blues really pose a HUGE hurdle, ‘Nucks in seven.