While KD and I like to think that we know everything about everything about sports, there's one thing we both agree on. We know nowhere near enough about hockey to write a competent analysis for the playoffs. KD claims he only knows about the 1994 Rangers. While I grew up going to Columbus Chill games, and later Columbus Blue Jacket games, I'm what I like to call a casual fan who is most knowledgeable about the Mighty Ducks trilogy and the Minnesota Miracle Man Himself, Gordon Bombay. I love the game of hockey live, but only follow the scores and little else. So we enlisted our brand spanking new Resident NHL Guru Schwendy to provide a little insight for us. Part 1 here, Part 2 tomorrow.
NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEW Thanks everyone, happy to be here. Throw your razors away because its time to grow the PLAYOFF BEARD! That’s right people the NHL Playoffs have arrived! Anywho, let's start in the Western Conference.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks: Talk about a horrific draw for the Canucks, The past two times these teams have met in the “second season”, Chicago has won in six games. Could this be the year that Vancouver beats Chicago, or will the Hawks take down the top team in all of hockey???
The Canucks: For Vancouver it all rests on the shoulders of 4 players: The Sedin Twins (Daniel & Henrik); Ryan Kesler; and Roberto Luongo. In the regular season, the Sedin Twins and Kesler combined for a total of 271 points between 3 players! While that's a full season's work, if Vancouver gets 5-10 points out of each in this series they should easily move on the Conference Semifinals. But the big X factor here is Luongo; for the longest time he has been phenomenal in the regular season but just could not find his groove in the playoffs. In fact, his career playoff record is only 17-17. To win in the playoffs you can’t just have good goaltending, you need unbelievable goaltending.
The Blackhawks: For Chicago to be giant killers it all starts and ends with their rookie goaltender, Corey Crawford. Yes, I am aware that at the same time this last year Chicago entered the playoffs with a rookie goalie in Antti Niemi, who led them to a Championship. But Niemi played out of his mind. Crawford was very solid this season but also had the usual rookie lapses, which can’t happen. If the Blackhawks are forced to put Marty Turco in goal, watch out because this series is OVER!
Prediction: A fantastic regular season doesn’t carry over in the playoffs for the Canucks; I’ll take the Hawks in 7. Why? Because I can, and Chicago is Vancouver’s kryptonite.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7)Los Angeles Kings: Let’s start by saying that these teams are not only division rivals but they hate each other. This rivalry is comparable to OSU-Michigan. Yes, it gets “that” bad if you catch my drift. San Jose has been the “sexy” pick for a while to win the Stanley Cup, always phenomenal in the regular season, but perennial choke artists in the playoffs. Los Angeles is the up and comers, a young team that has yet to really find itself.
The Sharks: To advance to the Conference Semis, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau can’t be invisible on the ice. They have to make their presence known as soon as the puck drops in Game 1. It also helps that the Sharks’ goalie (the aforementioned Antti Niemi) just won a Cup last year; maybe he can share some of his experience to help San Jose finally live up to their regular season hype and win the Stanley Cup.
The Kings: For Los Angeles to pull a 1980 Miracle on Ice, they need a whole lot of help. With leading scorer Anze Kopitar done for the playoffs with a broken ankle, LA needs Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, and Ryan Smyth to pick up the offensive pace if they want to have any glimmer of hope in this series.
Prediction: Sharks in 5. In future years LA will find its identity as a hockey team; it just won’t be in this series.
(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes: Excuse me, but haven’t we met before? Last year, Phoenix pushed Detroit to a crucial Game 7 but Detroit would showed its playoff moxie and took the series. I would like to point out that the Red Wings made the playoffs for the 20th straight year, the longest current playoff streak in North American sports. If you haven’t noticed yet I’m a huge Wings fan. For Detroit the main question is whether Father Time and the long list of injuries finally catch up to them? And for Phoenix; who will step up and be a game changer other than Shane Doan?
The Wings: For Detroit to advance they just need to play their usual game of puck possession, throw a lot of shots on net, and just plain out-work Phoenix. The big injury concern for the Wings is Henrik Zetterberg: he missed the final two games of the regular season a mysterious and kind of creepy “lower body injury.” If Zetterberg is able to return in this series, it would be a huge boost on offense and defense. If not, this series could go either way. But the big wild card here isn’t Zetterberg’s health, it’s goalie Jimmy Howard. Howard has shown flashes of greatness and mediocrity. Detroit has the offensive firepower to put pucks in the net; Howard needs to make sure the pucks stay out!
The Coyotes: For Phoenix to advance a they need another game breaker; I’ll pick the savvy vet and former Wing Ray Whitney to be that guy. Whitney has plenty of playoff experience and was a vital member of the Hurricanes when they won Lord Stanley’s Cup back in 06. The Yotes will need Ilya Bryzgalov to become a brick wall. Detroit will throw a lot of shots and hope for rebounds, but if Bryzgalov transforms himself into the Vezina finalist he was last season the Detroit Red Wings will be on upset alert, and I’ll be on suicide watch.
Prediction: This looks extremely biased but it’s not. Detroit just has too much experience and overall is the more talented team. I’ll take the Wings in 6.
(4)Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators: For the first time ever all 3 California-based NHL teams made the playoffs. This series has the potential to be a heavy-weight battle. Can the Ducks continue to ride their talented first line that includes regular season goal leader Corey Perry? Or will the hardworking Predators win by relying on a fantastic first defensive line and Vezina trophy finalist goalie Pekka Rinne?
The Ducks: Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack… For Anaheim to advance it’s going to be about how the line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan play against Nashville’s best shut down defensive unit in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. If the Ducks’ superline is able to overcome Nashville’s stout D, well you’ll see a blueprint of how to play offense boys and girls.
The Preds: For Nashville to advance it will have to be an team effort, starting with the defense’s ability to limit Anaheim’s Flying V Line. If Suter and Weber are able to neutralize Perry & Co., the Preds will be a different hockey team. But Nashville lacks a potent scorer (their leading regular scorer only had 50 points; Corey Perry had that alone in goals), the Preds need longtime captain David Legwand to really step up and lead the team offensively. They also need goalie Pekka Rinne to carry his regular season play into the playoffs. If Rinne puts up another 2.12 goals against in this series, Nashville will move on to the 2nd round for the first time ever. But that’s a big if.
Prediction: This will be a fantastic series, but in the end the offensive firepower of Anaheim will simply be too much for the defensive minded Predators. Even though Gordon Bombay’s not coaching, Anaheim in 7.