Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NHL Playoffs: Western Conference

Yesterday, I covered the Eastern Conference of the NHL playoffs. Mind you, I am no prognosticator but I will make an attempt to handicap the opening round of the Western Conference.

Here goes!

(1)Vancouver Canucks vs (8) Chicago Blackhawks

Is there any wonder why Vancouver was the NHL's best team during the regular season? The Canucks won 54 games, score goals by the boatload, defend solidly, and have superb goaltending.

Offensively, Vancouver is lead by the Sedin twins Daniel and Henrik. Daniel scored 41 times this past season while Henrik had a whopping 75 assists. On top of that, Ryan Kessler also had 41 markers for the Canucks and Alexandre Burrows had 26 to boot. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is a threat from the blue line tallying 14 goals.

Asides from Ehrhoff, back liners Kevin Bieska and Dan Hamhuis were +32 and +29 respectively.

Roberto Luongo once again had a stellar season minding the net for Vancouver. The Vezina Trophy candidate was victorious in 38 of 60 starts sporting a fantastic 2.11 Goals Against Average and a sparkling .928 save percentage. Luongo is truly one of the league's best.

Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago had turned over a significant portion of it's roster during the off-season and struggled just to qualify for this post-season.

The Blackhawks still have firepower from forwards Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa. However, Chicago is not as good defensively as star defenseman Duncan Keith had an off year by his standards.

This season, the netminding will rest on the shoulders of young Corey Crawford. Crawford did a respectable job taking over for veteran Marty Turco by winning 33 games and posting a respectable 2.30 GAA. That being said, this is a question mark for the defending champs.

Dick Says: As hard as this is to believe, it appears as though the defending champion Blackhawks have little chance in beating Vancouver in a best-of-seven scenario. Too many weapons and superior in goal, Vancouver could make this easy.

Vancouver --- 5 Games

(2)San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings

San Jose has the gunslingers to match Vancouver as seven Sharks scored 20 or more goals led by All-Star Patrick Marleau's 37 and Logan Couture's 32 tallies. Three lines of offense is hard to stop unless hot goaltending comes along.

Antti Niemi defected from Stanley Cup champion Chicago to play in net for San Jose this season and didn't disappoint. With 35 victories, a 2.38 GAA and a .920 Save percentage, Niemi has the experience to help send the Sharks deep into the post-season.

Los Angeles will have a difficult time offensively without center Anze Kopitar who broke his ankle in late March and is out of commission. Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, and veteran Ryan Smyth are all capable but this may be too much to ask to replace the puck skills Kopitar possesses.

Jonathan Quick will again man the goal for the Kings. A winner of 35 games with a 2.24 GAA, Quick is more than capable of handling the pressure San Jose will apply.

I believe: San Jose will prove far too powerful for the undermanned Kings. Pure and simple.

San Jose --- 5 Games

(3)Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes

Detroit has plenty of goal scorers to go around as 13 players scored at least 10 goals during the regular season with Johan Franzen and Danny Cleary leading the way. Of course there always Henrik Zetterberg who will shoot the puck at any time.

While goalie Jimmy Howard won 37 games, he didn't play particularly well for most of the season. He must step up if the Wings are to make another run at Lord Stanley's Cup.

Phoenix has no one player that will scare the Wings offensively. Shane Doan was the only player with 20 goals and that an even 20 at that. Defenseman Keith Yandle provides a spark from the blue line but he needs help from the forwards.

The Coyotes have Ilya Bryzgalov holding down the fort in net. While Bryzgalov had a somewhat high 2.48 GAA, his .921 save percentage is a testament to his outstanding play as Phoenix gives up a ton of shots.

I Think: Detroit has many weapons that can score but Howard is questionable in goal. Phoenix lacks goal scoring capabilities but had an outstanding goalie. Who knows?

Detroit --- 7 Games

(4)Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators

Anaheim has three players that can tickle the twine. Corey Perry was the NHL's leading goal scorer with 50 on the season. Perry also lead the league with 11 game winners and was 5th with 14 power play goals. Bobby Ryan had 34 shots go to the back of the net and the ageless Finn Teemu Selanne still showed his scoring touch potting 31 goals, including 16 on the power play, good for 3rd in the NHL. To boot, blue liner Lubomir Visnovsky had 18 markers to help the forwards.

With starting goalie Jonas Hiller still suffering the effects of vertigo, it will be up to Dan Ellis to guard the net for the Ducks. Should Ellis falter, Ray Emery will fill in but Anaheim is hoping Hiller can play if need be.

Nashville is playing tremendous hockey entering the playoffs. While not loaded on offense, goalie Pekka Rinne has been nothing short of fabulous of late.

Rinne posted 33 wins with a fantastic 2.12 GAA and a .930 save percentage, second only to Boston's Tim Thomas.

Dick Chimes: While Anaheim clearly is better offensively, the questions in goal could haunt them. Nashville could win this series if Rinne plays as advertised.

Nashville --- 7 Games

There is my view of the opening round in the Western Conference.

Enjoy the games!


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