Thursday, April 21, 2011

NHL Playoff Update: Western Conference

The past two nights of the NHL Playoffs have been nothing short of entertaining. We have seen multiple overtime games, and epic comeback, and even one team finish off a sweep. As I mentioned before, the NHL Playoffs fail to disappoint, and that will continue until the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup is complete. Hit the jump to see a review of the Western Conference Playoff Series' thus far:
(Home teams in CAPS)

Chicago Blackhawks (8) vs. Vancouver Canucks (1)
Game One--CANUCKS 2, Blackhawks 0 (1-0 Vancouver)
Game Two--CANUCKS 4, Blackhawks 3 (2-0 Vancoucer)
Game Three-- Canucks 3, BLACKHAWKS 2 (3-0 Vancouver)
Game Four--BLACKHAWKS 7, Canucks 2 (3-1 Vancouver)

Luongo is trying to put is playoff woes behind him
After the first seeded Canucks handled business on their home-ice in rather convincing fashion, they headed to Chi-town with a good grasp on the series.  They came out of Game 3 with a stranglehold. The question coming into the season for Vancouver was not how they would perform in the regular season, but if they could make a deep run into the playoffs, something they have consistently failed to do. More specifically, can Roberto Luongo perform in the playoffs, the same way he does throughout the season (2.11 GAA and .928 Save %)? So far he has not disappointed. Although his performance in Game 4 has not up to his standards (22 saves on 26 shots), he cannot be blamed just yet because he has been a brick wall through the first three games of the series (85 saves on 90 shots). He has been a key reason why the President Trophy winners have an opportunity to advance to the second round in front of their home fans tonight. Along with Luongo, Daniel Sedin has continued his spectacular play from the regular season. After having 41 goals and 104 points during the season, Daniel has continued his torrid pace and quest for a Hart Trophy. He has 4 goals and 6 points through the four games of the series.  It also does not hurt that he has his twin brother playing on the same line as him (4 points through 4 games).

The defending champs are in a bit of trouble heading back to Vancouver. To really have a shot in this series, they needed to win both games at home, after losing the first two in Canada. Unfortunately for them it seems as if their magical run is about to end. Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are a combined -6, and Patrick Kane has failed to light the lamp through the first four games thus far. While nothing is impossible, as we have seen 0-3 comeback just one year ago, I think it is safe to assume the Blackhawks will not repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.

Los Angeles Kings (7) vs. San Jose Sharks (2)
Game One-- SHARKS 3, Kings 2 (1-0 San Jose)
Game Two--Kings 4, SHARKS 0 (1-1 Tied)
Game Three (OT)--Sharks 6, KINGS 5 (2-1 San Jose)

On Tuesday night, I feel asleep around midnight EST. The score of Game 3 at the time was 4-0, with the Kings out in front. Yesterday morning I woke up, got ready for work, casually did my surfing of the internet of the previous night's scores. Much to my disbelief, I came to see the Sharks completed a miraculous comeback to win 6-5 in overtime. I swore I misread it, but it was true. Antti Niemi was dreadful allowing 4 goals on 6 shots, which in turn allowed Antero Nittymaki to enter the game. Nittymaki was solid, allowing only 1 goal on 12 shots, but after watching highlights, he was not much of a difference-maker. The difference-makers were the entire Sharks' team. After falling behind by 4 goals, they finally woke up and dominated play from the second period on. Ryan Clowe had 2 goals and Patrick Marleau was all over the ice. He lit the lamp once and set up Devin Setoguchi's game-winning goal in overtime.

After blowing a four-goal lead on their home ice, I do not see how the Kings can win this series. They very well may win another game, but you have to believe their mental edge, if they had any, is completely gone. It is a disgrace to have a team on the ropes, after stealing home-ice advantage from the number two seed, then giving up in that kind of fashion. The Kings will now have to battle an even more confident Sharks team and their own selves, if they want to have a shot at getting back into this series.

Phoenix Coyotes (6) vs. Detroit Red Wings (3)
Game One-- RED WINGS 4, Coyotes 2 (1-0 Detroit)
Game Two-- RED WINGS 4, Coyotes 3 (2-0 Detroit)
Game Three-- Red Wings 4, COYOTES 2 (3-0 Detroit)
Game Four-- Red Wings 6, COYOTES 3 (4-0 Detroit wins)
I will not spend much time on this series because it has been biggest laugher in the playoffs thus far. Detroit had little trouble dismantling this young Coyotes' team. They dominated all aspects of the game, and did it without Henrik Zetterberg, who hopes to return in time for second round action. Jimmy Howard was not spectacular, but was solid, allowing 10 goals on 118 shots.  Thats all they needed from him.  Pavel Datsyuk led the way for the Wings tallying 6 points during the four game span. Phoenix's top guns Shane Doan and Keith Yandle were a combined -7, and Ilya Bryzgalov had a postseason to forget, allowing 17 goals on 139 shots (.878 Save %).  Just when there was some sort of hope for Coyotes' fans in Game 4, Daniel Clearly scored from an almost impossible angle, and Todd Bertuzzi quickly followed up by giving Detroit the insurance they needed, which led to the NHL's only sweep of the first round.

Nashville Predators (5) vs. Anaheim Ducks (4)
Game One--Predators 4, DUCKS 1 (1-0 Nashville)
Game Two--DUCKS 5, Predators 3 (1-1 Tied)
Game Three--PREDATORS 4, Ducks 3 (2-1 Nashville)
Game 4--Ducks 6, PREDATORS 3 (2-2 Tied)

Coming into these playoffs, I felt this was the most compelling series in the Western Conference, and it has lived up to that hype. With the series tied at 2 through four games, the series has gone back and forth at a pretty rapid pace.  No team has been able to sustain momentum thus far.

After having the best regular season of his career, Corey Perry has not taken his foot off the pedal through the first four games of the playoffs. Perry lit the lamp 50 times during the season and tallied 98 points. He has 6 goals and 8 points in the playoffs, as the series shifts back to Anaheim. The problem for the Ducks has not been scoring, but the goaltending has been in question. Ray Emery may have thought his career was over after being diagnosed with avascular necrosis over a year ago. Now, after a miraculous comeback, he is the starting goalie has a team hoping to make a Stanley Cup run.  However, for that to happen, he needs to be more consistent (10 goals on 99 shots).  After Dan Ellis lost Game 1, allowing 4 goals on 24 shots, Emery has provided enough of a spark to allow the Ducks to even the series.

Nashville has had to win throughout the season with the definition of teamwork. They did not have one player score over 50 points during the regular season. Defenseman Shea Weber was tied for third on the team in scoring, with 48 points. That is simply not done very often. They have continued with their excellent team chemistry into the playoffs, and have a tremendous chance of pulling a first round upset. However, just as the Ducks, they will need their goaltender to step up. Pekka Rinne has allowed 14 goals on 100 shots (.860 Save %), and he needs to be better.

It is clear that whichever goaltender can put something together will allow their team to win this series. I will refrain from making a pick as I feel it is too close to call. I will not refrain from watching the rest of this series, because it has been a dandy, and will continue to be.

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