8 Things to Watch in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Western Conference

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by Peter Christian and Bryan Vickroy

Sure, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs started two days ago and sure Vick and I could have made you aware of these tidbits of knowledge prior to game 1 of 7 of the 8 first round series, but we didn’t. Just consider that we put a little more effort and research into our analysis than anyone else (not that we did, just tell yourself that as you read them).

Best 1st Round Match Up


(BV)#1 San Jose vs. #8 Colorado: The perennial nuclear meltdown in waiting of the Sharks going up against a youthful, inexperienced team in the mountains. Both teams struggled down the stretch run, and both places are difficult to win in. Colorado can strike early and hold a team off. San Jose has been known to fail in such situations. This series will be a display of how the modern, fast paced flow of hockey is played.

(PC) #4 Phoenix vs. #5 Detroit: Even though EVERYONE is picking Detroit to advance here, don’t sleep on Phoenix. The front office might be in shambles, but on the ice, the Coyotes are frisky. They work hard, they are led by the blue collar prototype Shane Doan and are backed by one of the best netminders in the game in Ilya Bryzgalov. Detroit has the experience and the fundamental talent but if there’s one thing to remember about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that any team can get beat at any time.

Most Important Goalie

(BV) Evgeni Nabakov, Sharks:  Plays on arguably the most talented team in hockey.  Has melted down in both last years playoffs, and the Olympics.  Goalies are a screwy bunch, but Nabakov ratchets it up a notch.  If he can’t focus and stop the puck, the Sharks will be going home early again, and Evgeni may be out of a job.
(PC) Jonathan Quick, Kings: Quick is going to be staring down a ton of shots and excellent scoring chances against the Canucks, especially when the Sedin twins are on the ice. He was a huge factor in keeping the Kings in the playoff hunt all season but over the last 3 weeks he’s gone cold. He hasn’t earned a win since March 22nd and his performance will largely determine if the Kings give the Canucks a battle or if they go down with as much as a whimper.
Player to Watch

(BV) Antti Niemi, G, Blackhawks: The rookie has been sheltered by tight defense and a high octane offense all season.  The playoffs are a different animal.  If this team of destiny is to end the cup drought, Niemi needs to stay on his game and not get shell shocked by the situation.  If he succeeds, he brings glory.  If he fails, Cristobal Huet has already shown he wilts in the spotlight.
(PC) Marian Hossa, RW, Blackhawks: While an injury limited Hossa to his lowest point total since his first full season in the league, Hossa is still good for at least 1 point per game and is key for the Blackhawks to pursue the Stanley Cup. He’s been to the finals in each of the last 2 seasons with 2 different teams and has been on the losing side each time as well. If Hossa can lead the Hawks to the Finals, I don’t think he’s going to be OK with a 3rd straight loss.
Line to Watch

(BV) Vancouver Canucks (LW Daniel Sedin, C Henrik Sedin, RW Alex Burrows): The Sedin twins have been playing together probably since before they left the womb.  After Daniel’s injury this season, Henrik became an all around dominant force.  After Daniel’s return, and after the chaos of the Olympic induced scheduling, they found their groove and overcame both Colorado and Calgary to win the Northwest.
(PC) Vancouver Canucks (Sedin, Sedin, Burrows): No shock that Vick and I went the same route here. The Sedin’s playing together is almost unfair. Henrik had an unbelievable season as the league’s top scorer and can create scoring chances out of thin air. His connections with his brother Daniel are well publicized but its been his ability to mesh with Alex Burrows that has helped him reach the peak of his game. Opposing coaches, defensemen and goalies all fear this line. If they say they don’t, they’re lying.
Best Fireworks

(BV) #3 Vancouver vs. #6 Los Angeles: Vancouver has already hosted a thrilling Olympic party this year, and want to add a triumphant return of the Stanley Cup to Canadian soil as well.  LA is a town where support always comes out for winners.  The first playoff appearance in eight years and the first strong team since the Gretzky era has given hockey a lot of California Love these days.  Also the added bonus of the possibility of a Roberto Luongo meltdown.
(PC) #Vancouver vs. # 6 Los Angeles: If Game 1 was any indication, this series is going to be fantasitc. Both teams have high octane scorers surrounded by gritty, physical players that aren’t afraid to get their knuckles bruised. In the West, this is your best bet for something exciting in every single game.
Most Likely 1st Round Upset

(BV) #5 Detroit over #4 Phoenix: Many people may not see this as much of an upset, but since I see the West going the chalk route otherwise, this is what I’ve got.  Detroit has been the hottest team since the Olympic break, and are finally healthy after the deep runs of the last couple years.  Phoenix had a shot last year, and only needed a REAL coach to show improvement.  Phoenix has veterans with experience, but nothing matches the experience the Red Wings bring to the table.
(PC) #6 Los Angeles over # 3 Vancouver: The Kings and Canucks were only separated by 2 points in the standings and if Jonathan Quick has busted his slump (his performance in the Game 1 loss would indicate that is the case) these teams are very evenly matched. If Quick can get back on pace, I think the Kings are the better team.
Most Overmatched Coach

(BV) Joe Sacco, Avalanche:  In a matchup of two rookie bench bosses with limited NHL coaching experience, the honor goes to the low man on the totem pole: Sacco.  After the failed attempt to get Patrick Roy to take over both coaching and GM responsibilities, the Colorado brass went with the simplest route and went to their minor league affiliate.  As green as the rest of the Colorado roster.
(PC) Todd McLellan: Todd may have more experience than his 1st round counterpart but it isn’t much. Plus, McLellan’s got expectations bearing down on his shoulders. The Sharts, er, the Sharks are notorious for early exits in the playoffs and whatever the reason it comes down to coaching.
Indispensible Grinder

(BV) Shane Doan, LW, Coyotes:  Although he is a top line player and captain of the Coyotes, he’s a grunt at heart and has played his entire career out of the spotlight.  Plays a working man’s game; screening the opposing goalie, neutralizing opponents top lines, and tapping in timely goals.
(PC) Dustin Byfuglien, RW, Blackhawks: Dustin loves using his size to wear down his opponents and at 6-3, 245 lbs. who can blame him? He is always looking for his next victim to drive into the boards but isn’t afraid of the puck either. He found the net 17 times this season and also logs time on the power play. He really helps the Hawks have a well rounded attack.

Comments

  1. paulmbanks says

    I agree that Huet is the weak link. And Niemmi has to be there, if Crystal Balls shows up again.

    Byfuglien is even bigger and scarier looking on skates cuz it adds height.

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