NHL Playoff Preview: Western Conference

Francois GendronSenior Writer IApril 12, 2007

IconIt's that time of year... playoff season in the NHL.
Here, the Bleacher Report s Francois Gendron tells you what to expect in the Western Conference, where star goaltenders have been the story of the season.
What do Dominik Hasek, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and Roberto Luongo have in common?
If they're on their games, no one else has a chance...
Detroit Red Wings (1) v. Calgary Flames (8)
The Detroit Red Wings finished the season atop the Western Conference. Their offensive attack, led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and defensemen Niklas Lidstrom, is, at best, a complement to their primary weapon: goaltender Dominik Hasek.
The aging Hasek found the fountain of youth this season, finishing with an impressive 2.05 goals-against average in 56 games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002.
The Calgary Flames have a real challenge ahead of them. Their talented goaltender, Miikka Kiprusoff, posted a 2.46 goals-against average in 74 games but he ll have to play his best to stop the Wings.
Offensively, the Flames are in good shape with Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, and Daymond Langkow. If there is to be a big surprise in the first round, Calgary might just cause it.
Yes, logic says that the Red Wings should win this series easily, but my crystal balls forecasts a tough battle. Look for Detroit to win in seven games.
Two of the NHL s best defensive teams square off in this first-round matchup.
For Anaheim, goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere posted an excellent 2.26 goals-against average despite battling injuries. The Ducks' main offensive weapons are Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald, and defensemen Scott Niedermayer. With Giguere in the net, the Ducks lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003.
The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, are coached by defensive guru Jacques Lemaire. The Minnesota goaltenders benefited from Lemaire s leadership: Niklas Backstrom finished the season with a goals-against average of 1.97 in 41 games, while Manny Fernandez had a 2.55 GAA in 44 games.
On offense, though, the Wild can t be considered a serious threat. Marian Gaborik, who tallied 57 points in 48 games, is their only weapon and Minnesota will struggle to win a single game with so little talent.
The Ducks should take this one in five easy games.
Vancouver Canucks (3) v. Dallas Stars (6)
This series should be a very entertaining one to watch, I wish they'd broadcast it here in Quebec. If it's on TV in your area, for godsakes: Tune in.
The Vancouver Canucks are coming off one of the most impressive seasons in club history. Much of that success can be attributed to the best goaltender on the planet, Roberto Luongo.
I only have good words for Luongo, who's one of the most consistent net-minders I've ever seen. He had a 2.29 goals-against average in 76 games in his first season as a Canuck...impressive, to say the least.
Apart from Luongo, the Canucks have some serious firepower in Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison. The defense is also solid with Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo.
That said, the Dallas Stars will test Vancouver. Marty Turco is a talented goaltender, and he ll give his team a fighting chance. Offense, though, is another story: The Stars' best weapon this season was Mike Ribeiro, who managed 59 points. Ladislav Nagy, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov, and Mike Modano will have to produce to give Dallas a chance.
Nashville Predators (4) v. San Jose Sharks (5)
Despite a slow finish, the Nashville Predators logged a franchise-record 110 points this season.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun battled injuries but still maintained a 2.40 goals-against average while registering five shutouts. On the attack side, the Predators have some firepower in Paul Kariya, Jean-Pierre Dumont, David Legwand, Peter Forsberg, and Martin Erat.
Nashville flirted with the league leaders in points all season long, and should hang around the playoffs for at least a few rounds.
The San Jose Sharks, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov posted a 2.29 goals-against average in 50 games, and he ll need to be at his best to keep his team in the series.
On offense, don t be fooled by Joe Thornton's 114 points during the regular season he shouldn't be much of a factor. The former Boston Bruin has only one career playoff goal, and is known around the league for his postseason vanishing acts.
Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo will have to drag the Sharks to victory if they want to advance.
I see the Predators winning in six games.