As expected, the first round in the Western Conference was full of excitement and close games. There were no upsets, as the top four seeds all advanced, with the Vancouver Canucks being the only top seed to be pushed to a deciding seventh game. In this week’s article I will take a closer look at the two match-ups in the West.
Detroit vs. San Jose
The Red Wings play a very, very solid team game at both ends of the ice. They move the puck well and remain disciplined, which will be huge against the bigger and more aggressive Sharks. Zetterberg finally broke out against the Flames and Datsyuk has definitely been playing like a star. If Bertuzzi can continue to gain momentum, the Wings may be able to come close to matching the physical presence that San Jose brings. On the other side, the Sharks are big, fast, and skilled. The Detroit defense won’t be able to handle them down low. Thornton vs. Lidstrom will be an interesting match-up to watch.
Edge: San Jose
Lidstrom is easily the best defenseman on either team. The Wings breakout is all about quick passes, as their defensemen support each other very well. Craig Rivet has been a stabilizing force for the Sharks, who will rely heavily on him and Hannan to lead the inexperienced core into Detroit. The key will be if Detroit’s blueliners can withstand the forecheck of San Jose. If they can, Detroit has a good shot at winning this series.
Hasek has a proven track record but was not tested at all against Calgary. Nabokov played great against the Predators and is in the zone right now. It is hard to bet against Hasek in the playoffs, but father time may have caught up with him in this duel.
Edge: San Jose
Mike Babcock is arguably the best coach in hockey right now. He has the Wings playing a smart, disciplined game. That is exactly the opposite of what the Sharks want to face, as they have had penalty trouble against teams like Detroit all season. Ron Wilson is also a solid coach but is a few levels below Babcock in my opinion. The Wings have more experience and similar skill in the bottom six, as well as the winning history. But San Jose is playing fantastic hockey and has the speed and size to overpower the Wings.
Series: San Jose in SIX.
Anaheim vs. Vancouver
Anaheim is much bigger, faster, and deeper than the Canucks. Zubov largely shut down the Sedins’, and Morrison and Naslund have really missed Matt Cooke’s tenacity on their line. Anaheim has the players to shutdown the Canucks scorers, as well has a decided edge in physical play.
Anaheim has two of the best in the game. They also have Beauchemin, who has emerged as a top-pairing guy. Vancouver can throw out two solid pairings and boasts the underrated Willie Mitchell, but they will be hard pressed to control the game like the Ducks duo will
Giguere and Bryzgalov both have insane playoff numbers. Unfortunately for them, they are facing up against the best goalie on the planet.
Both Vigneault and Carlyle are great tacticians who get the most out of their teams. Matt Cooke’s potential return is going to be key, as he is one of the best forecheckers in the game. He can often set the tone early in the game and rattle the opposing defenses. Vancouver is missing their two best forecheckers in Cooke and Kesler, which is unfortunate because they don’t have the grit to compete with the Ducks. My heart says Vancouver steps up, but I can’t go against a team with Pronger and Niedermayer.
Outcome: Ducks in SIX