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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Western Conference Quarterfinals Playoff Breakdown

As promised yesterday, here is the breakdown of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

The Western Conference in my opinion is going to be a little harder to predict as almost any team could represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals, but let's get right into it.

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs #8 Nashville Predators

I can't believe I'm actually sitting here staring at this matchup. I thought for sure that with losing guys like Paul Kariya Kimmo Timmonen and Tomas Vokoun that this team wouldn't even be relevant, but here we are.

Why The Wings Win:

Better question is why don't they win, but we'll get there. This has been the most complete and dominant team in the NHL this season. Yes, the Sharks are probably the hottest team in the world right now, but look at this from a season standpoint.

If the Wings haven't been the number one seed from game one of the season, it had to have taken them at most three or four games to claim that spot and they haven't given it up since.

The play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk has been incredible and guys like Johan Franzen have stepped up and performed well above expectations.

Why They Don't Win: Told you we'd get to this. Anyway, it's hard to find a flaw in this team. The only thing that jumps to mind is that the combined age of their goaltending is just shy of triple digits. Not to mention Chris Osgood has either been great, or terrible. Yeah, his save percentage is impressive, but come on a pylon could've put up solid numbers for the Wings this year.

They're that good.

Onto the Predators

Why They Win: Dan Ellis has been on fire recently. He hasn't given up more than three goals since Feb. 23 against Dallas in a 6-3 loss.

Since then he's 8-4-1 with two shutouts.

The Predators have been playing well down the stretch going 6-3-1 in their final ten games to catch and hold off the Vancouver Canucks for the final playoff spot.

If the Predators are going to win Ellis is going to have to channel the spirit of Dwayne Roloson and J.S. Giguere from playoffs past.

Why They Don't Win: I just don't see the Preds pulling off the upset. Don't get me wrong, I'll be rooting for it, but Detroit has the complete package.

The Predators aren't exactly a deep team and that is going to be what hurts them. They have played the Wings well only losing the season series 5-3, but this is the playoffs and the Wings are very much built for the playoffs.

Bottom Line: Nashville as an organization should feel good about defying odds and making the playoffs at least, but don't blink because this one is going to be over quick. Red Wings in 5.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs #7 Calgary Flames

By far one of the most intriguing goaltending matchups we'll get in the playoffs. Evgeni Nabokov against Miikka Kiprusoff. Both capable of stealing a series.

Why The Sharks Win: This team has been the most dominant team in the league down the stretch. Before losing in regulation of their last game of the season, the Sharks hadn't lost in regulation in 21 straight games. Are you kidding me? A pace like that and they couldn't even catch the Wings who had built up a huge lead all season.

Joe Thornton may be the best passer in the game and in the top 5 all-time. Big Joe didn't reach 100 points this season falling just three shy, but he still logged 67 helpers. I really like this team's chances to represent the West.

Why They Don't Win: This is a team that doesn't get out and score many goals. If they face a team that can figure out a way to get past their incredible defense and get some pucks behind Nabokov, the Sharks are going to be in trouble.

Onto the Flames

Why They Win: Jarome Iginla and Kipper are going to have to put this team on their back and carry them. Calgary has been one of the streakiest teams in the league this season. They'll go from scoring at will to not being able to hit the broad side of a barn. From a fantasy standpoint, that fact killed Gopher all year long as he had Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Daymod Langkow. When that line was hot, he was unbeatable. When it was cold, he was still tough to play against, but easier to knock off, unless you had my team which whooped him even with them scoring.

But I digress.

Kipper is obviously capable of carrying this team in the playoffs. He did in during the 2004 playoffs and in my opinion won the Stanley Cup in overtime in Game 6. If he plays solid and the Iginla line plays like it can, the Flames have a shot. Let's not forget that they won the season series with the Flames 3-1.

Why They Don't Win: I wouldn't exactly say the Flames are living up to their name as they went 5-5 in their final ten games. Kipper was pulled against the Canucks on March 30 after giving up four goals on 13 shots.

The Flames also haven't scored more than three goals in a game sin March 22 against Minnesota in a 5-4 win, a span of six straight games.

Bottom Line: If the Flames would have played better down the stretch, I could see myself taking them in this series based on their record against San Jose. However, San Jose is the hottest team in the league as noted above and should have no trouble advancing to the second round. Sharks in 6.

#3 Minnesota Wild vs #6 Colorado Avalanche

This series could go on for a while. With Colorado's win on the last day of the regular season, they earned the 6-seed and the right to play the Wild in the first round.

Why The Wild Win: The Wild always seem to be in every game they play. They hang around like no other and have the potential to explode for goals at any minute.

For them to win this series Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra are going to need to step up. Not to mention, Brian Rolston has been fantastic over the last couple of months. I nearly dropped him in my fantasy league, but he quickly turned it around and finished the season with 31 goals and 28 assists for 59 points. If he had been on the same line as Gaborik for the entire season, hes over 75 points.

Let's not overlook goaltender Niklas Backstrom who has been phenomenal this season going 33-13-8 with a 2.31GAA and a .920 save percentage. He's also on a personal four-game winning streak that he's only allowed a total of four goals and has one shutout.

Why They Don't Win For a team that was built around a defensive standpoint, they have given up 218 goals this season. Only three other Western Conference playoff teams have given up more.

The team has also scored 223 goals giving them a goal differential of +5 which is only better than #7 Calgary (+2) and #8 Nashville (+1). You could look at that two different ways: On one hand, they've shown they can win close games which the playoffs are known for. On the other hand, it shows that they can be scored on which has to worry the fans and coaching staff.

Onto The Avalanche:

Why They Win: Well this is pretty easy, they reassembled the Stanley Cup champion team from 2000-01. The only notable players missing are Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Chris Drury and Alex Tanguay. The rest of the roster is pretty close.

Peter Forsberg is the X-Factor in this series to me. When he's healthy, and not that often, he is one of the best players in the world hands down. Like any great player, Forsberg makes the other guys around him better.

I would say the Avs have played better since the trade deadline and that's true. They were hovering around the 8-seed all season long and at least managed to jump up a couple spots down the stretch even if it was on the last day of the season. They suffered a lot of injuries this season to key players, namely Joe Sakic who only played in 44 games this season. The team is healthy again and that makes them dangerous.

Why They Don't Win: Will the real Jose Theodore please stand up? Is he hot right now, yes. He's 5-0-1 in his last six games with a shutout. The problem here is that if you look at his game log from this season, this isn't the first time he's gone on a streak like this.

By my count this is the 5th win streak he has totaled this year of at least three games. Every time after the streaks? Multiple loss streaks of at least 3. For example, from Feb. 26 - March 8 he went 6-0. Immediately following that streak he went 1-4 over his next six starts. He was yanked from the cage in the sixth game after allowing three goals on eight shots in 14 minutes. He got off the hook as the Avs ended up losing 7-5 to Edmonton.

There is a pattern with him and if looks shaky at all, Peter Budaj is going to have to step up huge.

Bottom Line: If the last game of the season series on April 6 was a precursor to what we are in store for, this is going to be a fun series to watch. There may not be a lot of goals scored, but I'm thinking we'll see a lot of 3-2 games. Based on goaltending, Wild win in 7.

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs #5 Dallas Stars

Oh baby this is going to be a good one. Giguere vs Marty Turco. The defending champs taking on one of the most complete teams in the league.

Why The Ducks Win: The Ducks may have figured out how to build a cup contender from year to year. If you look back to the Stanley Cup Finals last year against Ottawa, they completely shutdown the high flying Sens by pounding them into the ice every chance they got. I'm not saying they Ducks are just a bunch of goons, though they do have two that jump to mind in Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Pronger.

The thing with the Ducks is that they are a group of huge individuals who can skate like the wind and hit like a Mack truck. Let's also not forget they have a Conn Smythe winner in net.

Since Teemu Selann and Scott Niedermayer decided to return from a retirement of sorts, the team has responded and looked much like the same team as last year. They go their identity back and have been a force down the stretch. They're 8-2-0 in their last ten games which you like to see if you're a fan heading into the playoffs.

Why They Don't Win: The only way this team loses in the first round, is if they beat themselves. I'm not just talking about showing up to the rink and playing for 60 minutes. Guys like Pronger and Bertuzzi need to keep their emotions in check. Pronger was jut suspended for eight games for stomping on Ryan Kesler and he was suspended during last year's cup run for an elbow which was debatable.

The Ducks need to show up and play the bruising style of play we know they are capable of playing. It won them the cup last season and it could very well do it again this year.

Onto the Stars:

Why They Win: On paper I like this team a lot. I loved the addition of Brad Richards at the trade deadline and he appeared to be fitting in quite nicely.

He's going to have to step up as a former Stanley Cup champion and bring his A-game if the Stars are going anywhere. Other guys like Mike Modano are going to need to step it up as well.

In net, the time is now for Marty Turco. Stars management entertained offers for him in the offseason and chose to stick with him. If the Stars lose because of poor play in net, he could very well have played his last game in Dallas. I don't blame last year's loss to the Canucks in seven games on Turco at all. It was a great series and he played well, but against a team like Anaheim you can't give them soft goals.

Why They Don't Win: I don't know if there's a chemistry problem going on in Dallas or what, but since the Richards deal the team hasn't been winning many games. In their last ten games they're 3-5-2, which I'd be worried about if I was a Stars fan or player.

Richards did not play a game in April and only recorded six points in March. That lack of offensive putout was a major reason why the Bolts traded him. That and the salary cap issue with keeping Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.

Bottom Line: I never trust slumping teams come playoff time, but if there is a team that has the ability to turn it around it's the Stars who won the season series with the Ducks 5-3. As much as I like the Stars on paper, the Ducks are the team to beat right now as they still hold the Stanley Cup. Ducks win in 6.

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