NHL Western Conference Playoffs Preview
By Andy Graziano
Apr 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wingMarian Hossa
(81) scores against Detroit Red Wings goalieJimmy Howard
(35) during the shoot out at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in the shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Western conference quarter finals begin tonight and all eyes are on two great series that could be unfolding before our watchful eyes.
The teams who survived the opening round are all worthy combatants as the league looks to narrow down its contenders for the Stanley Cup championship to the final four.
Here at EyesOnIsles we are not content to sit back while our beloved boys in blue begin their summer vacations. In an effort to bring you the best hockey coverage in the blogosphere, here is our preview of the Western conference, with the Eastern conference to follow….
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (7) Detroit Red Wings
Series begins: Wednesday, May 15 at United Center, 8:00 pm EST
Season series :
- Jan 27 – Chicago 2, Detroit 1 (OT)
- Mar 3 – Chicago 2, Detroit 1 (SO)
- Mar 31 – Chicago 7, Detroit 1
- Apr 12 – Chicago 3, Detroit 2 (SO)
Why Chicago Can Win
There is not a more balanced team now in the Western conference than the Blackhawks, who steamrolled through the regular season and defeated the Minnesota Wild in 5 games in the opening round.
Rolling four lines with excellent precision, head coach Joel Quenneville has his team focused on their second championship in the past four years.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has MVP caliber seasons that potentially cancelled each other out as neither was selected as a finalist for the award. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead an underrated defense and Corey Crawford was outstanding in round one as the Wild put on more of an offensive push than some had anticipated.
Why Detroit Can Win
There is a ton of experience on this Red Wings roster and it stems from a level of confidence and excellence in the front office. It is not a coincidence that Detroit has made the playoffs in 22 straight seasons.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg and dangle master Pavel Datsyuk are complimented on offense by rugged Johan Franzen and super freshman Damien Brunner.
The issue with Detroit could be their defense, who without sure hall of fame candidate Niklas Lidstrom struggled at times this season to set up a new identity going forward for the Wings.
Jimmy Howard is battle tested in goal and is much more confident in his abilities to lead the Wings to the promised land once again. He rebounded from a slow start in the Wings seven game series win against Anaheim, allowing 10 goals in the final 4 games of the series.
The Wings were only 19th in the league this season in goals per game and Crawford posted a .950 save percentage in the opening round and did not look like the weak link some projected him to be. All that experience in the Wings dressing room makes this a longer series than some think, but the Hawks are just too deep at forward for Detroit to overcome.
HAWKS IN SEVEN
Apr 27, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks centerJoe Thornton
(19) carries the puck against Los Angeles Kings centerDwight King
(74) during the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs (6) San Jose Sharks
Series begins : Tuesday, May 14 at Staples Center, 10:00 PM EST
- Mar 14 – San Jose 4, LA 3
- Mar 16 – LA 5, San Jose 2
- Apr 16 – San Jose 3, LA 2 (SO)
- Apr 27 – LA 3, San Jose 2
Why Los Angeles Can Win
Simply put, they are the defending Stanley Cup champions. Nobody on this roster forgets a 8th seed coming all the way to the top of the mountain last season and they are hungry to prove it was no fluke. After falling behind St.Louis, a cup favorite in the eyes of many, the Kings took over and won 4 straight.
Jonathan Quick, last season’s Conn Smythe trophy winner, really struggled early in the Kings opening series against the Blues, not so much statistically, but how he allowed the goals. He bounced back to allow only 6 goals in the series final 4 games and finished with a .944 save percentage.
Up front the Kings have to figure out how to generate more offense. Against the Sharks, they will find the road not more evenly paved than they did against the stout Blues defense. Jeff Carter must continue to litter the net after potting 3 in the opening series. Mike Richards posted 5 assists but did not score and Justin Williams, Dustin Penner and Slava Voynov each chipped in with 2 goals each.
This is a team, however, that can win scoring 2 goals as they have that kind of confidence in their goaltender. It actually makes them a very good comparison to the New York Rangers in the Eastern conference in that regard.
Why San Jose Can Win
The Sharks dismantled the dysfunctional Vancouver Canucks in the opening round, posting the only sweep of all the series that took place. The games were alot closer than the scores however, as San Jose had to go to overtime in two of them.
Antii Niemi is the workhorse in goal and after leading the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup glory in 2010, is poised and ready to go after the most prestigious trophy in sports once again. He allowed only 8 goals in the sweep, posting a .937 save percentage.
The Sharks were 24th in goals per game in 2013 and like the Red Wings have to find offense from secondary sources at times. That was not an issue however in round one, as Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau each potted 4 times against the Canucks. Throw in 3 by Logan Couture and offense was certainly in high gear for the Sharks.
This could be the series of the second round to watch as there will be tons of speed on display and two great former cup winning goaltenders. The Sharks looked calm and collected in their opening round sweep, a change from years prior and the Kings looked every bit like they are in no rush to relinquish their crown.
This series could easily be considered an even money pick ’em but we will give it a shot anyway.
SHARKS IN SIX
Coming up later, a look at the Eastern conference quarter finals.
Thanks for reading as always.