Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Western Conference Quarterfinals
(3) Minnesota Wild v. (6) Colorado Avalanche

Offense: Colorado might have he most explosive group of forwards in the Western Conference. With historical playoff beasts Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic augmented by the likes of Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth and Andrew Brunette, the Avs can roll three dangerous scoring lines and, with everyone healthy, run and gun with the best of them. The Wild on the other hand have been known to plug goons like Todd Fedoruk onto their scoring lines due to a dearth of dangerous forwards, but still have the lethal Marian Gaborik who has a great playoff track record to his credit. Still, it's hard to top the Avs' deep unit. Edge: Colorado.

Defense: Neither team really has an All-Star on the blueline, but the Wild's Brent Burns will certainly be one in a few years. Along with two-way defenseman Kim Johnsson, stay-at-home stalwart Nick Schultz and the physically imposing Sean Hill, Minnesota's back end clearly outclasses the Avs' mix of Scott Hannan, Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles, among others. Edge: Minnesota.

Goaltending: This category is hard to handicap. Coming off a spectacular season in which he recorded the lowest goals-against average in the NHL, Niklas Backstrom regressed a tad this year, but still finished in the top ten in wins, goals-against average and save percentage. Talk about a polar opposite: The Avs' fallen star of a netminder Jose Theodore, coming off a terrible season and an offseason littered with whispers of buyout, the former Hart Trophy winner shone once again, winning key games for Colorado down the stretch and often bailing out Colorado's unspectacular defense. The stats will show you Backstrom is a superior goalie, but the reality is this matchup is just too close to call. Although, here's a fun fact: Theodore has never lost a first-round series. Edge: It's a wash.

Overall: Once infamous for their stingy system, the Wild were largely average this season in terms of team defense, allowing upwards of an average of 2.5 goals against per game. It'll be a nail-biter of a series for sure, but that statistic doesn't bode well for Minnesota if they hope to stop this high-powered Avalanche offense. Prediction: Colorado in 7.

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