The NHL playoffs are upon us. Let’s look at what the first round in the Western Conference looks like.
(1) Detroit Red Wings Vs. (8) Nashville Predators– The Red Wings, overall, have the best team in the league. Are they the hottest team right now? No. But they have been the most consistent team this season. They had a minor meltdown in February, but rebounded by winning 12 of their last 16. Nashville was on the fence for a while, but rallied in the last two weeks of the season to clinch the final playoff spot in the West. On the season, the Red Wings are 5-3-0 against the Preds, while Nashville is 3-3-2; a respectable record against the best team in the NHL. What makes this matchup interesting is the depth in net. Detroit has the veteran combo of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek and Nashville has the dynamic duo of Chris Mason and Dan Ellis. Osgood and Hasek are not strangers to this situation, whereas Mason and Ellis do not come close to the experience that the Detroit duo do. Ellis will most likely get more games in this series, since he has taken over the reigns after the All-Star break. But this will be Ellis’ first postseason, and boy does he have a lot of weight on his shoulders going up against the force known as the Detroit Red Wings. This series might not be a blowout, but I think it’s safe to say the Red Wings are in good shape. Final Prediction: Detroit 4-2
(2) San Jose Sharks Vs. (7) Calgary Flames– 18-2-2; that is the Sharks’ record in their last 22 games. I believe that qualifies them as the hottest team in the NHL right now. Evgeni Nabakov has started 76 games in net this season for San Jose. In those 76 games, he has 46 wins and a 2.15 goals against average. Meanwhile, in Calgary Miikka Kiprusoff has not had one of his best seasons, but he’s gotten the job done with a 39-26-10 record. The one thing both teams have in common is a potential MVP candidate: Joe Thornton (San Jose) and Jarome Iginla (Calgary). Thornton has 96 points in 81 games and Iginla has 98 points in 82 games. Iginla also has 50 goals, nine of which are game-winning goals. Head-to-head this season, Calgary has gone 3-1 against the Sharks, while the Sharks are 1-1-2; but that was all before they acquired Brian Campbell from Buffalo. Campbell brings a good sense of leadership from his experience in Buffalo. He also brings an offensive ability that most defensemen can’t bring to the game. Can one man make that much of a difference? Definitely. Final Prediction: San Jose 4-2
(3) Minnesota Wild Vs. (6) Colorado Avalanche– Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, and Peter Forsberg; this looks like the Avalanche team of the late nineties. When Forsberg has played for the Avs this season they are 8-1-0 and he has 14 points in those games. The goaltending situation looks a little better in Minnesota. While Minnesota was eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round last season, goalie Niklas Backstrom played great in net for the Wild. He only let in 12 goals in five games. In his team’s four losses to the Ducks they only scored five goals. Therefore, the offense will have to do a better job this season if they look to defeat Colorado. The Avalanche is 3-4-1 against Minnesota in the season series, while Minnesota is 5-2-1. This series looks like it might go seven games. But who will win it? Final Prediction: Colorado 4-3
(4) Anaheim Vs. (5) Dallas Stars– The defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks will definitely have a tougher road to the finals this season. While many players have returned for the Ducks, they are not all having the seasons they did one year ago. Ryan Getzlaf seems to be more of a leader this year going into the postseason and a lot will rest on his shoulders. Getzlaf leads the team with 82 points (24 G, 58 A) and a +32 +/- rating. Jean-Sebastian Giguere has also matured in net this season for the Ducks, going 35-17-6 while posting a 2.12 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. If Dallas wants to win this series, Mike Ribeiro will have to continue to put up the numbers he has all season; he finished with 83 points (27 G, 56 A) in 76 games, all are career bests. Anaheim was 3-5-0 in the season series, whereas Dallas was 5-2-1, but Anaheim has gotten better as the season has progressed. Final Prediction: Anaheim 4-3