Monday, April 7, 2008

Western Conference Quarterfinals
(1) Detroit Red Wings v. (2) Nashville Predators

Offense: Even when the Predators employed the likes of Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, the Red Wings were still arguably a stronger team up front. Now that those four are gone and Steve Sullivan has yet to skate this season, this is a pretty easy win for the Wings. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are two of the most complete forwards in the game and headline a group of forwards that will only improve as Dan Cleary recouperates from injury and Tomas Holmstrom gets back in his groove. Edge: Detroit.

Defense: The statistics don't lie. The Red Wings allowed the fewest shots against and goals against this season, largely thanks to future Hall-of-Famer and likely Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom along with fellow All-Star Brian Rafalski and a defense corps that also includes young stalwart Niklas Kronwall and ageless wonder Chris Chelios. The Preds on the other hand were largely mediocre defensively this year, allowing nearly 30 shots against per game while sporting an ugly 2.73 goals against average. A serious and extended injury to top blueliner Shea Weber along with a relentless forechecking, offense-first system will do that to a team, but due the aforementioned loss of key offensive personnel, Nashville can no longer afford defensive deficiencies. Edge: Detroit.

Goaltending: Dan Ellis just might be the best player you've never heard of. A hapless rookie goaltender signed as a free agent last summer to compete with top netminding prospect Pekka Rinne for the right to back up Chris Mason, Ellis has convincingly stolen the starting job from Mason and owned the NHL's best regular-season save percentage at 92.4%. The starting job wasn't all he stole as Ellis also fleeced games for the Predators down the stretch, posting a 233:38 shutout streak late in the season in which he stopped 147 consecutive shots, fifth-best among such strings since 1944. If there's one question mark regarding this year's Red Wings squad, it's in goal. While the stats will show you Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek own two of the top five goals-against averages in the NHL, the duo's numbers are largely inflated (or would that be deflated?) by Detroit's outstanding defense as neither netminder has been particularly impressive. If the Predators see a glimmer of hope in this series at all, you've got to think it's in the goaltending matchup. Edge: Nashville.

Overall: Ellis might steal a game and the Predators will probably outwork the Wings at least once, but let's be honest: The mere fact that Nashville qualified for the postseason after the firesale they held in the offseason is a miracle in and of itself. The Predators will likely fail to advance past the first round for the fourth consecutive year, but this time it won't be for lack of effort. Prediction: Red Wings in 6.

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