2008 NHL Playoff Predictions: Western Conference, Round One
Yesterday I wrote my predictions regarding the Eastern Conference results for Round One and today I give you my forecast for the "wild west."
Detroit Red Wings (first) vs Nashville Predators (eighth)
This series is all about respect. The Predators have been in the NHL now for over ten years and they are well aware of their conference rival's hockey heritage.
As Jason Arnott, the captain of the Preds stated earlier this week: "You only have to look at our rivalry and how healthy and respectful it is, they don't call it Hockeytown, USA for nothing, as a team, man-for-man we respect them."
This season the rivalry could not have been played any closer. The teams split the regular season with Detroit outscoring Nashville 20 to 19.
The Predators are a team very capable of beating the Wings. They possess four twenty-plus goal scorers in Jason Arnott, Alex Radulov, Martin Erat and JP Dumont.
The Red Wings are loaded for battle with veterans Pavel Datsyuk (97 pts), Henrik Zetterberg (92 pts) and Niklas Lidstrom leading the defense core with 70 points.
The youthful exhuberance of Nashville will win them at least one game and their fan base at home may win them two; however, this series will come down to goaltending. (Boy isn't that something new!)
Dominek Hasek and Chris Osgood have played in combined 202 playoff games whereas the Predators tandem of Dan Ellis and Chris Mason have played a total of five postseason games.
Respect aside, this series may go six games at the most.
Mark Predicts: Detroit in five
San Jose Sharks (second) vs Calgary Flames (seventh)
The question that will be answered soon enough in this series is: Can the Calgary Flames extinguish the red hot San Jose Sharks?
The Sharks come into the playoffs as the hottest team in professional sports. They finished the last quarter of the season on a mission. Their record of 16 wins and two losses, combined with two overtime losses (that they easily could have won) will make the Sharks a formidable foe as these playoffs roll on.
Led by captain Joe Thornton and the recently acquired mobile defenceman Brian Campbell, the Sharks are well equipped to eat up some prey. Evgeni Nabokov had a career season in net for San Jose. He had a personal and league best 46 wins and had a stellar 2.14 GAA. Nabokov is more than capable of winning this series all by himself.
These two teams have played each other twice in the postseason before and are one and one all-time.
The Flames on the other hand have the best player playing in this series. Captain Jerome Iginla and his 50 goal season put him only second to Alex Ovechkin and his 65 goals for leading the NHL in goals scored.
Mikka Kiprusoff will have to be "all world" in goal if the Flames are to burn the Sharks. Head coach and former Cup winner Mike Keenan will have to draw up some serious game plans if San Jose is to be denied a second round visit in this year's road to the Stanley Cup.
Mark Predicts: Sharks in six
Minnesota Wild (third) vs Colorado Avalanche (sixth)
The veteran savvy of the Colorado Avalanche will be tested in this match-up of a Minnesota Wild team coached by a defensive minded genius in Jacque Lemaire versus the old guard in Colorado.
The old school leftovers of Avalanche successes of the past including: Joe Sakic, Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg and former Oiler and "Captain Canada" Ryan Smyth will ultimately have their hands full with the now ready for primetime Minnesota Wild.
The Avalanche come into the playoffs with the second-worst power play unit in the league. They had a 14.6 percent efficiency rating while playing with the man advantage.
On the other hand, they had an excellent 85 percent penalty kill efficiency, but in the playoffs if you do not score on the power play you are as good as dead.
The Wild are led by Marian Gaborik and his 40 goals this season. Brian Rolston added another 30 goals to give the Wild a nice one-two punch. The Wild are solid in net with Niklas Backstrom. The 30 year-old Finnish veteran posted a nice .930 save percentage this season to go along with a splendid 2.31 GAA.
The Wild have home ice advantage and this may be a negative. In recent post season, play the Wild have posted only three wins at the Xcel Energy Center to go along with seven home losses. On the road their history shows a six win against seven loss record.
If Jose Theodore and his 28-21 and 2.44 GAA record comes into play for the Avalanche, this series may be close. If Theodore tanks, the Avalanche will be hitting the links early and "Captain Canada" will be able to play in this year's World Hockey Championships being held in Canada (Quebec/Nova Scotia) for the first time ever!
Mark Predicts: Minnesota in six
Anaheim Ducks (fourth) vs Dallas Stars (fifth)
Since veteran and inspirational leader Teemu Selanne came out of "retirement" earlier this year, the Anaheim Ducks are an impressive 20-5-1 and Selanne himself contributed 23 points in those 26 games. The rust on his skates was none existent!
Alongside fellow Stanley Cup '07 veterans Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, Selanne and the Ducks have re-loaded for another shot at back-to-back championships.
Dallas is not going to lie down and play roadkill for these Ducks of Anaheim and will be as good a challenger as anybody that the Ducks will face on this journey to Lord Stanley's mug.
Led by veteran Mike Modano (his playoff numbers include 53 goals and 133 points), the Stars will be tough. At the trade deadline they acquired former Conn Smythe trophy winner Brad Richards (2003 Tampa Bay). Richards went on to score 26 points in the 23 games that he played for Dallas after the trade in late February.
Like every series that I have mentioned - and this one is no different - this match-up will ultimately be settled in the crease. A classic battle of the masked men is going to define this series. Can Anaheim's J.S. Giguere and his Conn Smythe past out-battle playoff veteran and cowboy Marty Turco?
I will let those two battle it out and only the future knows the answer to this one and all the other predictions that I have made.
Mark Predicts: Anaheim in seven
Thanks for reading my predictions and I have recently published the Eastern Conference predictions on BR. You will easily find them on the NHL page on Bleacher Report.com. Have fun and I wish everyones teams good health. See you in Round Two!
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