Last Two Champs Battle Headlines West Round Two
April 30, 2009 by Big Tony
Although the east has the so called “dream match-up” the second round of the Western Conference probably has the series with the most potential as the last two Stanley Cup Champions will go head-to-head.
2. Detroit Red Wings vs. 8. Anaheim Ducks
The seeding in this series explains who has home ice advantage and that is it. The match-up itself is a very even one as each team equals the other in talent and experience alike. Coming into the playoffs the defending champion Red Wings had only one question, goaltending. But after their first round sweep of Columbus it looks like Chris Osgood is back to form when it matters the most. Ahead of Osgood the Red Wings have continued to suffocate teams by scoring goals while limiting the other team’s scoring chances by holding on to the puck for so much of the game. In large part perhaps the best and maybe only way to stop Detroit’s offensive zone, puck-possession style is by asserting one’s physical presence… enter the Anaheim Ducks. Not only do the Ducks equal Detroit in skill and experience but also in size. The Ducks are big up front and at the blue line which is what propelled them to the Stanley Cup just two years ago where they beat the Red Wings along the way I might add. Quite possibly the only weakness for the Ducks is netminder Jonas Hiller and that’s only because he has never been here before. Hiller proved himself worthy in the first round by shutting out the President’s Trophy winning Sharks and if that continues then consider that question answered.
So what is the X-factor in this series? For the Red Wings to win they simply have to do what they did in the first round and have done time and time again in the past, simply play their game from start to finish. For the Ducks they have to keep themselves out of the penalty box, but if they do go to the box they need to take a Red Wing with them when they can—via fighting majors or retaliation penalties—and when they do yield Detroit a power play they need make sure their penalties are because of hard play and not because of stupid interference or holding calls. The Ducks will also need to see if they can get Osgood to return to his 2008-2009 regular season form in which both is GAA and save percentage were terrible. However in the end it will be the Detroit Red Wings who take this evenly matched series in seven.
3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 4. Chicago Blackhawks
Many people would say this is another evenly matched series that can go either way but I tend to disagree. Roberto Luongo gets the edge in goaltending over Nikolai Khabibulin although give Khabiblulin another feather in his cap since he has won a Cup whereas Luongo has not. Outside of the goaltending comparison the Blackhawks have a much better overall team than the Canucks. On paper the teams are evenly matched but the Canucks rely way too much on Luongo to bail them out time and time again; that has worked out so far but is not likely to continue indefinitely. Alex Burrows stepped up big time for the Canucks in round one scoring huge goals with none being bigger than the series clinching goal in overtime of game four. The Sedin twins have been good but outside of the two of them and Alex Burrows playing above his pay grade in round one the Canucks did not get much support from the rest of the team. Mats Sundin should now get a chance to heal and could make a difference for the Canucks but since arriving in Vancouver he has mostly underachieved despite playing well down the stretch.
As for the Blackhawks, they have an enormous amount of skill up front (Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Towes to name a few) while also possessing a very strong blueline with Ben Eager, Duncan Keith, and company. Sure they lost two games against Calgary while Vancouver swept through St. Louis but the Hawks were up against much stronger competition who they squashed in the last two games of that series. So all the Blackhawks have to do to win is to continue to play as a very strong unit while Vancouver’s best chance of winning is relying heavily on Luongo. With that in mind, the Hawks have a much wider margin of error than the Canucks do and will win the series in six as a result.
Enjoy round two everybody!