SenShot’s Western Conference Playoff Preview

The teams that were going to participate in the post-season were not decided until the very last day of the season, and as a result there are 4 very interesting matchups that will take place in the first round.  Here is a breakdown of all the series’ and a prediction from each of SenShot’s staff of writers.

 

#1 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs #8 MINNESOTA WILD

The Hawks effectively had a playoff spot clinched by the time their 24 game point streak streak came to an end.  They cruised to the President’s Trophy with 77 points.  On the other hand, the Wild needed a win and a tiebreaker over Columbus to get into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.

 

Apr 9, 2013; St. Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg (25) shoots on Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) during the third period at the Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

RECENT PLAYOFF HISTORY 

The Wild haven’t made the playoffs in 4 seasons, and haven’t won a series since advancing to the Conference Finals in 2002-03, where they lost to the Ducks.  Chicago has had more recent success, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 but have lost in the first round each of the past two seasons.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

CHICAGO MINNESOTA
36-7-5 RECORD 26-19-3
7-2-1 LAST 10 4-5-1
18-3-3 HOME 14-8-2
18-4-2 AWAY 12-11-1
16.7% (19TH) PP% (RANK) 17.9% (16TH)
87.2% (3RD) PK% (RANK) 80.7% (18TH)
149 (2ND) GF (RANK) 118 (23RD)
97 (1ST) GA (RANK) 125 (15TH)
16.8% %GF ON PP 22.9%
HEAD TO HEAD
2-0-1 RECORD 1-2-0
1-0-0 HOME 1-1-0
1-0-1 AWAY 0-1-0
8 GF 5
5 GA 8
0/7 (0%) PP  (%) 1/7 (14.3%)
6/7(85.7%) PK (%) 7/7 (100%)

 

KEY PLAYERS

Jonathan Toews, CHI -  “Captain Serious” is nothing short of phenomenal and is one of the fiercest competitors and best leaders in the game.  It also doesn’t hurt that he is one of the top two-way talents in the league and a consummate professional.

Ryan Suter, MIN – The Norris Trophy candidate and $98M man will be counted on at both ends of the ice and in all situations.  Suter led the all defensemen in time on ice with over 27 minutes per game, and was third in scoring.

 

MASH UNIT – KEY INJURIES

Chicago goalie Ray Emery is questionable to start the series.  Emery is goalie 1A to Corey Crawford‘s 1, so it is not a huge loss if he cannot start the series.  Dave Bolland is a different story as the gritty #2 centre will be missed if he cannot start the series.  Bolland is also questionable with a groin injury.

For the Wild, Dany Heatley is out for the balance of the playoffs after undergoing shoulder surgery in early April.  Jason Pominville missed the Wild’s last 2 games after taking a Dustin Brown elbow to the head and is questionable to start the series.

 

LATE SEASON ADDITIONS

The only player Chicago added this season was veteran centre Michal Handzus, who at this point in his career provides solid play in his own end, and a veteran playoff presence.

Minnesota added Buffalo captain Jason Pominville at the trade deadline, and he provides some offensive spark as a top 6 forward and a player who had played 45 career playoff games. Pominville notched 9 points in 10 games since coming over from the Sabres.

 

INTANGIBLES

Chicago has the temperment to win again, as they still have the core of the Stanley Cup winner of 3 seasons ago.  Joel Quennville kept the team rolling even after the top seed and President’s Trophy were all but a given.  They still came home with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10, and that includes the final game where they rested about half of their everyday lineup and started a goalie making his NHL debut.

The Wild come in scrambling down the stretch and barely held on to a playoff spot.  How will getting in affect their psyche?  Will they have a let-down after finally getting in, or might they realize they have nothing to lose and are essentially playing with house money since they could very easily be packing their lockers right now.

 

THE BLACKHAWKS WILL WIN IF

They get solid goaltending from Crawford, and if necessary, Emery.  Despite the numbers they have posted this season, goaltending has always been the big question mark in Chicago and they made it work with Antti Niemi in 2010 and the Crawford/Emery combination has been great this season. But to answer the doubters they will need to do it in the next two months.

 

THE WILD WILL WIN IF

They can find a way to make the power play go.  Chicago’s PK is the special teams unit that is above-average in this series and if Minnesota cannot capitalize at least 25% with the man advantage, then they do not have a chance.  That is where Suter will earn his big bucks.

 

SENSHOT SAYS

Jared:  Chicago might run into a roadblock on their way to the Stanley Cup, but I don’t think it will be the Wild that stands in their way.  Minnesota hasn’t been good down the stretch and Chicago doesn’t have an apparent weakness that can be easily exploited.  Even though they had to dismantle the team that won the cup in 2010, they still have the core of Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to rely on.  PREDICTION:  Hawks in 5

Phil:  The Wild barely got into the playoffs, had the season been one game longer I’m not convinced they would be here. The Columbus Blue Jackets have played great hockey of late and would probably have been in this spot had it not been the the tie breaker. The Wild will be hard pressed to try and keep down the Hawks high octane attack. I don’t see them threatening the Hawks in any way and wold be surprised if they even won a game, this has the chance for a sweep. Only because of how the series has gone in the regular season (2-0-0-1 CHI) All were somewhat close games.  PREDICTION:  I will go with 4-1 Hawks.

Jamie: From the outside this looks like an easy roll for the Hawks. The team has been dominant all year. Hold that up against Minnesota who hasn’t looked the strongest. Despite the fact this ia a 1 versus 8 series, and it’s “easy” to call number 1 seed, that’s what I’m doing. Chicago simply has too many moving parts. Maybe some close games, but Hawks walk away with the win.  PREDICTION:  4-0 Hawks

 

#2 ANAHEIM DUCKS VS #7 DETROIT RED WINGS

The Wings had a big transition to make in their first season without Nicklas Lidstrom patrolling the blue line for 25 or 30 minutes per night.  The drive for a 22nd consecutive playoff appearance came down to the last couple of games, but in the end the stars of the team pulled them through.   Anaheim put together a stellar season that was overshadowed by the Blackhawks.

 

March 22, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman (32) helps goalie Jonas Hiller (1) defend against Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

RECENT PLAYOFF HISTORY

The Red Wings lost in the first round for the first time since 2005-06 last year, which no doubt didn’t sit well in that dressing room.  They are three years removed from their last appearance in the finals, and 4 from the Stanley Cup.  They are accustomed to playoff success and the organization demands it.

Anaheim is also a fairly recent Stanley Cup winner, having hoisted the Trophy in 2007.  They have missed the playoffs 2 of the last 3 seasons, and haven’t won a series since 2008-09.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

ANAHEIM DETROIT
30-12-6 RECORD 24-16-8
5-4-1 LAST10 5-2-3
16-7-1 HOME 13-7-4
14-5-5 AWAY 11-9-4
21.5% (4TH) PP% (RANK) 18.4% (15TH)
81.5% (13TH) PK% (RANK) 81.7% (12TH)
134 (8TH) GF (RANK) 122 (19TH)
115 (9TH) GA (RANK) 110 (5TH)
21.6% %GF ON PP 27.9%
HEAD TO HEAD
1-2-0 RECORD 2-1-0
0-2-0 HOME 0-1-0
1-0-0 AWAY 2-0-0
7 GF 9
9 GA 7
1/9 (11.1%) PP  (%) 3/11 (27.3%)
8/11 (72.7%) PK (%) 8/9 (88.9%)

 

KEY PLAYERS

Ryan Getzlaf , ANH- One of the two potential unrestricted free agents (the other being Corey Perry) to re-sign big money contracts to stay in Anaheim for the long term. Getzlaf started off the season miserably, but by the end had forced himself into the Hart Trophy conversation.  He has the pedigree to lead the Ducks to a deep playoff run.

Niklas Kronwall, DET – The biggest burden to try to replace the ice time and production of Lidstrom fell largely on the shoulders of Kronwall.  He lived up to expectations, finishing 6th among defensemen in scoring and providing an intimidating physical presence while playing over 24 minutes per game.

 

MASH UNIT – KEY INJURIES

Luca Sbisa is a solid top 6 defenseman who is questionable to start the series.  Other than that the Ducks are relatively healthy.

Detroit had a terrible season injury wise and that is carrying over to the playoffs. Third line speedster Darren Helm is out, as is rugged Drew Miller.  Veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi are both questionable to start the series.  A return to form from either one or both of those top 6 forwards would be a boost to the Wings’ chances.

 

LATE SEASON ADDITIONS

The Ducks added David Steckel and Matthew Lombardi, although the latter was a healthy scratch down the stretch.  They also brought Radek Dvorak back after his season ended in Europe, and he provides a potential scoring threat.

The Red Wings won the Danny DeKeyser sweepstakes and signed the NCAA’s hottest and most sought after free agent.  They didn’t waste any time throwing him into the fire, and he was a mainstay on the Detroit blue line, playing over 18 minutes per game in 11 games after signing.

 

INTANGIBLES

The Ducks seem to have re-acquired their game with the hiring of Bruce Boudreau last season.  That has carried over to this year, and they are playing very well for him.  Add that to the motivation provided by Teemu Selanne, who has only so many cracks left to get his second Cup and Saku Koivu, whose time is running out to get his first, and the Ducks could be an inspired and motivated group.

Detroit is a franchise that demands excellence and playoff success.  Mike Babcock is one of the top coaches in the league and he can will his team to victory at times.

 

THE DUCKS WILL WIN IF

They can get enough scoring from the second line, including Selanne and Koivu.  Getzlaf and Perry will get their points, but will no doubt be matched up with Kronwall.  Secondary scoring will have to carry much of the load.

 

THE RED WINGS WILL WIN IF

Jimmy Howard can steal a game on the road.  Howard has signed on long term in Detroit and needs to step up and prove he can be an elite playoff goalie.  He hasn’t had the consistent performance in the postseason and they need him to be better than the Ducks goalie(s), whoever ends up starting in the playoffs.

 

SENSHOT SAYS

Jared:  Detroit had the edge in the season series, which was actually dominated by the road team.  However, Detroit seems to rely too much on the power play for their offense and have a tougher time scoring at even strength.  With playoffs traditionally called a little looser, in that the officials tend to let them play a little more, it could come back to haunt them. PREDICTION: Ducks in 6

Phil:  If there’s a series that has a chance for an upset it’s this one. A lot of people love the Ducks game and some believe it’s all smoke and mirrors. I fit in the latter category. I have a feeling the Ducks will have a tough time against Mike Babcock’s quick attack/high possession team philosophy. The Wings always seem to find a way to be successful in the playoffs and I think they will be in this series. They were successful versus this very team during the regular season going 2-1-0-0. PREDICTION: 4-2 Wings

Jamie: The streak continues for Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings. They’ve made the playoffs but how deep will they go? This series I feel will all come down to experience. Who has the guys that can take this the deepest. Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, or Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg? The Ducks have played as a tight unit all year and gotten the production from everywhere and the surprise of Viktor Fasth. I’m calling a Ducks victory on this one.  PREDICTION:  4-2 Ducks

 

#3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS #6 SAN JOSE SHARKS

The Canucks were the best team in a bad division, as per usual.  They didn’t have their usual dominant performance, and there were plenty of distractions all season long in Van City.  San Jose was up and down but put together a season that was really under the radar.

Mar 05, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA; Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin (33) has a scoring chance against San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi (31) during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

RECENT PLAYOFF HISTORY

After making the finals in 2011, Vancouver took a step back last season, losing in the first round and as a result created the circus that was this season.  The dropped the series against the LA Kings in 5 games.

San Jose has made the playoffs for the 9th straight season, but have never fully got over the hump and are still awaiting a finals appearance.  The rock bottom moment came last season when they lost in the first round to the Blues in 5 games.

BY THE NUMBERS

VANCOUVER SAN JOSE
26-15-7 RECORD 25-16-7
5-4-1 LAST10 5-5-0
15-6-3 HOME 17-2-5
11-9-4 AWAY 8-14-2
15.8% (22ND) PP% (RANK) 20.1% (7TH)
84.0% (8TH) PK% (RANK) 85.0% (6TH)
122 (19TH) GF (RANK) 116 (24TH)
115 (11TH) GA (RANK) 112 (6TH)
21.3% %GF ON PP 29.3%
HEAD TO HEAD
0-2-1 RECORD 3-0-0
0-0-1 HOME 2-0-0
0-2-0 AWAY 1-0-0
5 GF 9
9 GA 5
0/12 (0%) PP  (%) 3/14 (21.4%)
11/14 (78.6%) PK (%) 12/12 (100%)

KEY PLAYERS

Cory Schneider, VAN – With the collapse last season, much of the blame was heaped on Roberto Luongo.  With the former #1 still looking over his shoulder all season, Schneider didn’t really have the type of season he, or the Canucks were hoping for.  Schneider has been off for a few days with an undisclosed injury but should be ready to start the playoffs.  He needs to assert himself from the get-go to erase any doubts about his ability to carry the load for years.

Logan Couture, SJ – The Sharks still have Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, but this is quickly becoming Couture’s team. He is probably the best all-around forward on the club and will be the determining factor to San Jose’s ability to advance.

 

MASH UNIT – KEY INJURIES

For the Canucks, forward David Booth is a big loss as he will not be back from ankle surgery.  Defenseman Chris Tanev is also out indefinitely, while Schneider is probable to start the series after sitting out the last two games.

For the Sharks, Martin Havlat is questionable for game 1, and if he cannot go it will be unfortunate because he has developed some good chemistry with Couture lately.  Defenseman Jason Demers is doubtful with a sprained ankle.

 

LATE SEASON ADDITIONS

Vancouver added top 6 forward Derek Roy from the Stars to add to the depth of the offense and make up for the absence of Kesler while he was still on the sidelines.

San Jose brought grit to the lineup in the form of Raffi Torres and defenseman Andy Sutton, who made his return to the Sharks at the deadline.

 

INTANGIBLES

Vancouver has a lot to prove, and they are not as deep as they once were.  Ryan Kesler had a horrendous season with injuries and has some proving to do.  Coach Alain Vigneault has some proving to do, or he could be out of a job without at least a Finals appearance.  Most of all, Schneider has some proving to do, for the reasons noted above.

San Jose is likely looking at the last kick at the can with this group intact.  If they cannot go deep in the playoffs, there are going to be changes in SJ.  Thornton and Marleau could be moved and the reins truly handed over to Couture and Pavelski.

 

THE CANUCKS WILL WIN IF

Schneider comes in as advertised and is truly a number one goalie.  If he doesn’t and they have to go to Luongo, the circus will really return to town.

 

THE SHARKS WILL WIN IF

They can carry over their special teams dominance from the regular season.  Both the PP and PK were ranked in the top 10 and if that supremacy continues, they should oust the Canucks.

 

SENSHOT SAYS

Jared:  The Canucks have been a circus all season, and all it will take is one Cory Schneider stumble away from it happening again.  The Canucks do not seem mentally strong this season and I think they are ripe for the picking. The Sharks are dominant at home and dominated the Canucks all year. PREDICTION:  Sharks in 6.

Phil:  This series will be a close one I think. So many wild cards in this series. The top lines and goaltending will definitely decide this one. If the Canucks can get the Sedins going and have Schneider come into the playoffs healthy, which we won’t know until closer to the begining of the playoffs. If Schneider isn’t back then Luongo will obviously start and will need him to put that history behind him and step up the the plate. SAme goes for the Sharks if Thornton and Marleau can get going and combine that with Niemi can continue his strong play the Sharks might surprise people. In the regular season the Sharks had the Canucks number going 3-0-0-0. PREDICTION:  Sharks in 7

Jamie:  This is the hardest series for me to predict. San Jose are the perennial under performers when it comes to the playoffs. Good in the regular season, bad in the second season. Then on the other hand is Vancouver, which, despite finishing 3rd, and atop the Northwest Divison (arguably the West’s weakest division) the Canucks just haven’t had a terrific season. Nothing says that more than their final game fo the season. The got shelled in Edmonton. It was 50 minutes of quality hockey and then the wheels came right off. I’m calling a San Jose victory.  PREDICTION:  4-3 San Jose

 

#4 ST. LOUIS BLUES vs #5 LOS ANGELES KINGS

The Blues had one of the most up and down seasons in the league, with goaltending being at the centre of the good and the bad.  It just so happens that they are in “good” mode entering the playoffs.  The Kings go in 3 slots higher than they did last season and all they did was win the Stanley Cup when the dust settled.

Mar 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar (11) collides with St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) during the third period at the Scottrade Center. The Kings defeated the Blues 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

RECENT PLAYOFF HISTORY

This is a rematch of last spring’s second round playoff series, that was swept by the Kings 4-0. The Blues missed the playoffs 5 of the previous 6 seasons, and hadn’t won a series since 2002 before last year.

The Kings missed the playoffs for 6 straight seasons up to 2009-10, and followed that up with 2 straight first round losses.  Then a late season coaching change brought in Darryl Sutter and the Kings steamrolled to their first Stanley Cup victory.

BY THE NUMBERS

ST. LOUIS LOS ANGELES
29-17-2 RECORD 27-16-5
7-3-0 LAST10 5-3-2
15-8-1 HOME 19-4-1
14-9-1 AWAY 8-12-4
19.5% (12TH) PP% (RANK) 19.9% (10TH)
84.7% (6TH) PK% (RANK) 83.2% (10TH)
124 (17TH) GF (RANK) 131 (10TH)
114 (7TH) GA (RANK) 114 (7TH)
23.4% %GF ON PP 25.2%
HEAD TO HEAD
0-3-0 RECORD 3-0-0
0-2-0 HOME 1-0-0
0-1-0 AWAY 2-0-0
7 GF 14
14 GA 7
2/11 (18.2%) PP  (%) 1/15 (6.7%)
14/15 (93.3%) PK (%) 9/11 (81.8%)

KEY PLAYERS

Chris Stewart, STL – The Blues’ leader in goals and points has the ability to be very hard on the LA blueliners and make them think twice about carrying the puck out of their own end.  Stewart re-discovered his power-forward form this season and if he can carry that over into the playoffs he will be a force.

Drew Doughty, LA – Doughty got off to a very slow start, not scoring his first goal until March 19th.  He ended up with a respectable 6 goals and 22 points, at least respectable for most defensemen.  I am sure Doughty is not happy with his own performance and will be looking to make up for it in the post-season.

MASH UNIT – KEY INJURIES

For the Blues, Jamie Langenbrunner missed almost the entire season with hip surgery and will not be back in the playoffs. T.J. Oshie and Barret Jackman have been sidelined, but both are expected to return for game 1.

On the Kings’ side, Willie Mitchell was a key part of the blue line last season, is out for this run.  Matt Greene missed most of the season after being injured in the Kings’ first game, but came back to play in 4 games down the stretch.  He is questionable for the opening game of the series.

LATE SEASON ADDITIONS

St. Louis added a pair of defensemen at the trade deadline.   Jay Bouwmeester, who will play the first playoff game in his career in game 1 was the big one, but Jordan Leopold was also an important pickup.

Los Angeles also added a Sabres defenseman, when they picked up Robyn Regher to make up for some of the absence of Mitchell.

INTANGIBLES

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock is one of those guys with a shelf life that expires quickly.  More like milk than Twinkies.  This is his first full year behind the Blues bench so the players probably don’t completely hate him..yet.  If he can get the best out of his players they could be the team that dethrone’s the Champs

Los Angeles is obviously wearing the belt of the Champs right now, and a team has to step up and take it from them.  They won it all last year much to the surprise of many.  The biggest question for me heading into this playoff season for the Kings is if they can flip that switch again.

 

THE BLUES  WILL WIN IF

Brian Elliott can maintain the Jeckyll as opposed to the Hyde that popped up mid-season.  When he is good, he is unbeatable, but when he is off, it is lights out Blues.  Fortunately, they have a solid backup in Jaroslav Halak, but if the Blues have to go to him it might be too late.

THE KINGS WILL WIN IF

They can harness whatever magic they found last spring.  For an 8th seed to run through 1-2-3 and then win the Cup is unheard of and it was truly an amazing run.

 

SENSHOT SAYS

Jared:  I am convinced that this Kings team has another run in them.  I am not saying they will win the Cup, but I can see them going two or even 3 rounds deep and maybe being the bump in Chicago’s road at some point.  The Kings dominated the Blues in both arenas, allowed the same number of goals over the season and LA actually scores more.  PREDICTION: KINGS IN 5

Phil: This too has the potential to be a close series. The season series will tell you that the Kings have played the Blues well. I really like the Blues game and also really like the addition of Jay Bouwmeester. It’s really hard to find things to complain about when speaking of the Kings, considering they won it all last year! But I think if someone can do it it’s the Blues, which is why I will go with the bold PREDICTION of Blues in 7!

 Jamie:  Let’s get philosophical, are the Kings the same Kings as last year if they finish higher in the league? This series will undoubtedly be a battle of goaltenders. I’m expecting low scores and deflection goals here. Not a lot is going to get through to the net. So while this may be the closest series in the West, it also may not be the most entertaining for everyone to be watching. Look for the Blues to get a boost as they eliminate the reigning Kings. PREDICTION:  4-2 Blues

Topics: Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Playoff Preview, Playoffs, Predictions, San Jose Sharks, St.Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Western Conference

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