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Western Conference Semifinals Preview

Previewing the NHL's 2008 Western Conference Semifinals


My prediction record after the first round is 6-2, including going 2-2 in the Western Conference. Anaheim let me down, and I took a risk that almost paid off in picking Calgary. Interestingly enough, both #3 and #4 seeds have been eliminated in the Eastern and Western Conferences, but neither were surprising upsets.

Here we go with my analysis and key factors to the Western Conference Semifinal matches.

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

When you think of these two teams in the playoffs, you think of bad blood. The late 90’s saw the Wings and Avs in line brawls, nose bleeds, black eyes and plain old dirty hockey. Those were the days... Today, there are no personal grudges in this series as Claude Lemieux is long-removed from the game, but the history of Detroit/Colorado is going to make this dandy.

The Avalanche lost all four games against the Wings this year, only managing two goals. Obviously, this must change or else the Avs will get swept and embarrassed. Colorado is currently on a three game winning streak and must keep this momentum heading to Joe Louis Arena.

I can assume that Adam Foote will be focusing on the top line of the Wings this entire series, in an attempt to shut them down. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Ryan Smyth will have to take over the pace of the game to have any chance to advance.

Detroit has only lost one time in the last 14 meetings against the Avalanche. The Avalanche will have a hard time containing the Wings, since everyone participates in the scoring. Not one player on the Wings has more than five points, but nine players have at least three points. If they can keep this up, Colorado has no chance.

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Three key factors in this playoff series:

1) Crease Crashers – Tomas Holmstrom vs. Ryan Smyth

Chris Osgood and Jose Theodore are going to see a lot of these two guys standing directly in front of them. If they slash them, it’s a penalty. If their defense cross-checks them, it is also a penalty. Both crease-crashers attract penalties and create scoring chances by blocking the opposing goalie's vision.

Smyth has no teeth for a reason. This guy will do anything and everything it takes to win a game. Not sure if anyone in the NHL has been sticked in the face as often as this toothless wonder. He only scored one goal versus the Wild in the previous series, but it was on the power play. Smyth is the definition of a true hockey player.

How does Holmstrom take a beating every single game in front of the net and still stand the next day? He is like a brick wall that is very hard to move, making it almost impossible for goalies to see. Theodore is going to see a lot of number 96 directly in his way on the power play and there is not much he can do about it.

As I said before, Smyth has no teeth because of his work ethic. The edge goes to him.

2) Dan Cleary vs. Paul Stastny

These two combined for 44 goals during the regular season, but have only one this far in the playoffs. They have to stop being shy, especially now, when their teams need their contribution.

Cleary is a very low-key scorer who proves great secondary scoring for the Wings. When he slaps the puck in the net, it takes a lot of pressure of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg. His +2 rating is a good start, but he needs get more shots off since he only had two against the Predators.

Was Stastny even playing in the last series versus the Wild? This man lead the Avs in the regular season with 71 points in just 66 games. He only scored one goal, let off ten shots, and was a dreadful -2, when Colorado played Minnesota. Fortunately for him the Avs advanced, giving him another chance to prove that he is not an April fool.

With all the attention everyone else will be getting, Cleary has the edge.

3) Jose Theodore vs. Himself

He carried them through the first series and may need to do the same against Detroit. Theodore has a save percentage of .940 with 1.88 goals allowed per game; a crazy stat coming out of the series with Minnesota. The Wild seriously pounded Theodore with everything, but he played unbelievable hockey and stopped nearly everything that came at him.

The challenge for the Avalanche will be to keep Detroit from having 30 shots on net each night. Though Theodore is playing sensational hockey, they should not risk burning him out. It comes down to the conditioning and the mental fatigue of the Avalanche goalie during this series.

I just think Detroit plays as good as they have to, no matter their opponent.

Detroit wins in six.

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#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

The Sharks pulled off a close series victory when the 7th-seeded Flames nearly defeated them. Meanwhile, those damn Dallas Stars eliminated my projected Cup winning Ducks, and carry high spirits into this series. The last regular season meeting between these two teams saw over 100 penalty minutes that may lead this matchup to be the wildest yet.

Besides Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose did not play convincing hockey in the first round. Having four players with six or more points, the Sharks brought some serious offensive scoring, but lacked in the back. It took a few games, but Joe Thornton turned up the jets and is finally playing up to expectations. The team’s defense was not very good against the Flames as they allowed far too many breaks and big opportunities.

Hallelujah! Congratulations to Marty Turco who finally passed the 1st round of the NHL playoffs for the first time in three years. Dallas looked fast, aggressive, dedicated and very fluid as a team. Everything that could go right, did for the Stars in almost every aspect versus the Ducks. Nothing bad to say about them, since they made a mockery of the defending champs, or should I say, the defending chumps.

The Brad Richards trade looks to be paying off.

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Three Key Factors:

1) Captains – Patrick Marleau vs. Brenden Morrow

Team leaders are very important during the playoffs and the captain must be a superb motivator to keep his team on the right track. Whether it be in the locker room, when ahead, when behind; no matter what the situation is, he must stay positive. Both Marleau and Morrow have done this excellently this far though in much different ways. Continuing this is crucial.

Both have six points thus far into the playoffs, with Marleau being a silent machine with offense, and Morrow being an aggressive, gritty, loud leader.

The Sharks captain has 24 shots, excellent penalty kill and stays out of the box. He shows that leading a team by maintaining composure and scoring opportunities can win games.

Morrow takes penalties, hits hard, creates turnovers and plays at a high pace. His style is the complete opposite of Marleau’s, but it works. Just ask the Ducks.

This is a tough one to call. Ultimately, the silent killers are the hardest to catch. Edge goes to Marleau.

2) Defensive Offense – Brian Campbell vs. Stephane Robidas

Campbell was a huge trade deadline acquisition who has not done much in the playoffs, yet. The Sharks wanted him for his offensive talent and leadership at a time like this. He may be showing leadership, but his three points, 11 shots, and -1, is not cutting it. More is needed. More is expected.

With an injury to Sergei Zubov, the Stars have a 31-year old defenseman playing impressively in his position in Stephane Robidas. His speed, vision and raw talent was surprising during the last series. He registered six points, 24 shots and is sitting with a +2 rating. If he continues this type of play against the Sharks, Dallas may have a new number one defenseman.

As of right now, the edge has to got to Robidas.

3) Pressure – Joe Thornton vs. Marty Turco

Big Joe answered his critics with his seven points in this last series, while keeping himself out of the penalty box. Thornton is creating a lot of scoring chances for his teammates, but Mikka Kiprusoff was always stopping them. Will Turco play as good as Kiprusoff did against the offensive Sharks?

The Stars goalie played very well against the Ducks and is finally in the second round of the NHL playoffs. He did only make an average of only 22 saves a game in the series with Anaheim, with a goals against of 2.01. Thanks to an incredible offensive display by the Dallas team, that was enough to get by. Not taking any credit away from Turco, he made many valuable saves, but he will suffocate with all the pucks coming at him in this series.

Only one of these players can advance and the other will be a playoff goat. Thornton gets the edge.

San Jose wins in six.



By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

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