2011 NHL Playoffs: Second Round Takes a Toll on Western Conference

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMay 10, 2011

Douglas Murray is the top shot-blocker on the best shot-blocking team left in the playoffs
Douglas Murray is the top shot-blocker on the best shot-blocking team left in the playoffsThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With the Vancouver Canucks finishing off the Nashville Predators on Monday night, three of the final four teams left fighting for Lord Stanley's Cup have been determined.

Thanks to the San Jose Sharks choking and giving up their two-goal, third-period lead in Game 5 to extend the series, the outcome of their matchup with the Red Wings is the only second-round contest yet to be decided.

This means that both Western Conference semifinals will go on for at least six games. By contrast, both of the Eastern Conference's second-round series ended in sweeps.

What's more, over half the games played in the east were won with margins greater than one goal. There was just one such game among the 11 played in the deeper, stronger conference, and it was because of an empty net goal.

The reason for this is simple—Western Conference hockey involves better play in their own end.

They block more shots and thus give up fewer goals. The eight second-round games played in the east had as many goals scored as the 11 played by their counterparts, despite one more game going an extra period.

In the Boston-Philadelphia series, the two teams combined to average 35 blocked shots a game; San Jose and Detroit have played only one game that had fewer blocks than that.

So, the eastern teams stand no chance in the Finals, right?


The two best starting goalies left in the playoffs for both average number of goals-against and save percentage are in the Eastern Conference. Those teams survived because they are playing the game the right way—the way the entire Western Conference has been playing from the opening round.

Combine that with the fact the eastern teams get a couple of extra nights off and their advantage of playing all their games inside the same time zone, and the winner of the Prince of Wales Trophy has a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup.

By contrast, Vancouver will have played two time zones away on three occasions and three times zones away on up to six occasions before they even reach the Final.

The Campbell Trophy winner will just have to hope that their extra battle-testing will better prepare them. Whatever happens, it should be an interesting final four weeks of the 2011 NHL playoffs.