All the Big Boys of the Western Conference made It to the party. It wasn’t easy for any of them, but they are here now and things are about to get a lot more exciting around here. In my opinion the teams left in the West are also the four best teams left in the playoffs, though you can argue that Pittsburgh is better than Detroit at the moment. Below is an update on the teams left in the Western Conference, and a preview of what they need to do to move on.
San Jose: The Sharks did it! They have made it out of the first round, which to them is a relief. Their reward? You guessed it, the resurgent Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks won their series thanks to a break-out series for Joe Pavelski, racking up 5 goals and 3 assists as the Sharks dodged the Avalanche. If the Sharks want to continue to swim through the Western Conference, their first line needs to get going early and often in their series against the Red Wings. Heatley, Marleau, and Thorton combined for one goal in six games as well as a -7 in the +/- category. Detroit’s top two lines have been their best lines thus far. So If San Jose wants to keep up, the Thorton line has to step up and contribute on both ends of the ice( and I suspect that they will). This will be the Shark’s opportunity to show the league, and their fans they can win the a big series and perhaps overcome their reputation as choke artists for good. If not, you have to believe the Sharks core will be blown up in exchange for some players who can get the job done. Either way this is the end of and era for the Sharks.
HOT: Joe Pavelski, Nabokov, Ryan Clowe
NOT: Thorton, Marleau, and Heatley
Key to Advancing; Line one contributing, Win at home
Detroit: The Red Wings have been two teams in the playoffs. On one side you have the cup contending, solid defense, and mighty special teams power house that went to back-to –back Stanley Cup Finals. The team that lost 3 games, for the most part seemed disinterested, sluggish, and dare I say shakey. Lidstrom’s play was called into question for the first time in his career in the first round, but he recovered nicely in game seven. More consistent play from the Wing’s defense is a necessity for the Wings to have a chance.Regardless the Wings escaped the first round and perhaps awoke from their sleep walk in game seven. The Coyotes played the Wings as tough as anybody, and did so for the most part without their best player, Shane Doan. Datsyuk and Zetterberg have led the charge, topping the team’s scoring list, as well as scoring the timely goals needed to win in the playoffs, but as the Wings continue on you have to expect scoring to start coming from other sources. Franzen has 6 assists thus far, but just one goal, which makes him the perfect candidate for a break out series. If the Wings want to win four games against the Sharks, they will need all hands on deck in the scoring department.
HOT: Jimmy Howard,Datsyuk, Zetterberg
NOT: Nick Lidstrom,Todd Bertuzzi
Keys to advancing: Jimmy Howard keeps it up, Nick Lidstrom playing like Nick Lidstrom.
Chicago: The Blackhawks to me are the most intriguing team left in the playoffs. Front loaded with offensive prowess Chicago can keep up with any team in the league. The Hawks real question comes on its back end, squarely on the shoulders of Antti Niemi. The Predators were no doubt a challenge for the Blackhawks, but at the end of the day we all knew the Hawks moving on was a formality. Round two in the West is the round of the big boys, and Chicago seems to have a most glaring hole in net. Niemi was solid in the first round, but Vancouver was the highest scoring team in the league during the regular season. Chicago will have to buckle down much harder defensively to move on to the Western Conference Finals . The Hawks mainstays are carrying the team thus far, and that’s the way they like it. Marian Hossa, sort of the Blackhawk’s verison of Franzen has 7 assists, but just one goal. Hossa’s lone goal was a huge one though, in overtime and moving them ahead into round two . Hossa will need to contribute more in the goal column for the Hawks to beat the Canucks. There is no favorite in this match up, so the Hawks must maintain home-ice to get into the conference finals.
NOT: Duncan Keith, Kris Versteeg
Key to advancing: Playing a more gritty style, Goaltending
Vancouver: The Canucks have a lot going for them. Perhaps the best all around team in the west right now, its only glaring hole appears to be on the Penalty kill. The Sedins are doing their job, new addition Samuelsson is over achieving, and Luongo is making the saves that prove he belongs in the conversation with Ryan Miller as best goalie playing right now. If the Canucks can get their special teams in order, they will be the team to beat in the west, but Chicago is a much stiffer test, and can be devastating on the power play. This series is a coin-flip, and I anticipate it will go the distance. The Canucks have the slight edge thanks to a goalie fresh off a gold medal.
HOT: Sedins and Samuelsson
NOT: The Penalty Kill
Key to advancing: The PK improving.