Three “home and home” series with NHL playoff significance
The latter half of the 2010-2011 NHL regular season has been filled with its share of battles for position. Therefore, the final week of the regular season is sure to be a nail biter with six Western Conference playoff teams engaging in “home and home” series for their final two games. The three series will be Detroit vs. Chicago, San Jose vs. Phoenix, and Los Angeles vs. Anaheim. Not only will these teams face off this week but, depending on the outcome, some or all of these matchups could be seen again in round one of the playoffs; every Western Conference playoff spot except the first is in contention so anything can happen. So, here’s a breakdown of what is to come:
Detroit (3) vs. Chicago (8)
This original six matchup sees the Blackhawks in a fight to stay in the top eight and the Red Wings fighting for the number two spot with San Jose. In terms of desperation, Chicago has the advantage in that Detroit has already clinched both a playoff spot and the Central Division; the Wings really don’t have anything more to play for in that they cannot fall below third and can only move up to second. I would not be surprised if Mike Babcock decided to scratch or limit the ice time of key players during this “home and home.”
The Blackhawks hold the lead in the season series 3-1 over their division rivals with two of those wins being decided by a three goal margin. Chicago will still be without star player Patrick Sharp who has not played since sustaining a knee injury against the Coyotes on March 20 th. Sharp’s absence may be a factor but the Hawks have managed to keep it somewhat together going 3-3-0 without him. On the other hand, Detroit recently welcomed back Pavel Datsyuk to the lineup and the team is looking healthy going into the playoffs.
This series could go either way depending on what moves Mike Babcock makes with his roster though my instincts tell me he will play it safe and Chicago will get at least two points out of the Red Wings.
San Jose (2) vs. Phoenix (4)
When the Sharks and the Coyotes meet it will be two contests between two teams that are healthy (for the most part) and playing great hockey of late. San Jose has already clinched the Pacific Division and is looking to hold on to the second spot in the Western Conference whereas Phoenix has not clinched a spot but unless something catastrophic happens they will be in the playoffs. As for desperation, the Sharks are in the same spot as Detroit: they cannot move any higher than second or go any lower than third. Given the woes the team has faced in the playoffs, Todd McLellan may want to play it safe and rest some key players; however, Phoenix will be motivated to maintain the fourth spot thus guaranteeing them home ice in the first round.
The season series between these Pacific Division teams has been one-sided to say the least with San Jose winning all four games by two goals or more. With that being said, each team has been playing equally well over the past month though I feel that San Jose is the superior team and the numbers show it.
With the games taking place on back to back days, the “home and home” may come down to goaltending; Ilya Bryzgalov has not played two consecutive days since the beginning of February (both games were losses) and in that time Antti Niemi has done it four times getting points in all but one game (6-1-1). With home ice on the line I would expect to see Bryzgalov in net both games considering backup Jason LaBarbera’s not so stellar numbers. In the end, I would expect to see the Sharks getting at least three more points from the Coyotes.
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Los Angeles (5) vs. Anaheim (7)
The Kings and the Ducks will not be winning any division titles this year but they will be battling for stronger positions in the playoff race. Los Angeles, tied with Phoenix at 96 points, will be looking to break into the fourth spot in the West and lock home ice for the first round whereas Anaheim is hoping to maintain their hold on a playoff berth and hopefully slip past Nashville into the sixth spot.
Both teams have motivation going into the “home and home” series but Anaheim is the healthier team with Lubomir Visnovsky’s recent shoulder ailment being a non-factor for the dominating offensive defenseman. The Kings on the other hand will be without stars Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar, the latter of which is being reported as out until next season. Losing Kopitar is a massive blow given that not only is he the team’s best player but he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL.
Both teams have been playing great hockey down the stretch and their season series is split at two wins each. Between the amazing tandem of Ray Emery and Dan Ellis and the excellent play of Jonathan Quick, goaltending is also pretty even in this matchup. I expect to see quite a clash between the two teams and would not be surprised if they both walk away with a win.
One way or another, the three aforementioned “home and home” series with have huge playoff implications in the Western Conference, so keep an eye on these games.
By: Wade Pratt
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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