Thursday, April 24, 2008

Western Conference Semifinals
(1) Detroit Red Wings v. (6) Colorado Avalanche

Offense: I said it in my preview of the Colorado-Minnesota series, I'll say it again here: the Avs boast the deepest offense in the Western Conference. When your top six is comprised of Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth and Andrew Brunette and augmented by promising youngsters like Wojtek Wolski and David Jones, you know you're in good shape. Add to that the offensive potential of defensemen John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei and Jordan Leopold and it makes for one explosive Avalanche team. The Wings aren't exactly slouches themselves up front, with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the way, but the dominant duo barely made an impact against a young Nashville defense in the first round -- who's to say they'll be able to improve upon their first-round performance against a veteran corps that includes shutdown stalwarts Adam Foote and Scott Hannan? While Valterri Filpulla and Jiri Hudler provided decent secondary scoring for the Wings, what happened to Dan Cleary? The Detroit forward scored 20 goals in the regular season but hasn't found the back of the net since February 5th against Minnesota and had just one assist against the Preds in the first round. A matchup to look forward to here is the battle of the elite crease-crashers: Tomas Holmstrom for Detroit vs. Ryan Smyth for Colorado. Edge: Colorado.

Defense: Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski may make all the headlines, but young stalwart Niklas Kronwall was arguably the Wings' most important defenseman in their first-round ousting of the Nashville Predators, not only picking up points but maintaining an imposing physical presence as well. While the comparison between the two teams' bluelines seems lopsided in favor of Detroit, don't count out Colorado's underrated defense corps. Adam Foote turned back the clock and turned up an exceptional performance in the first round, shutting down Minnesota superstar Marian Gaborik. Look for him and his solid partner Kurt Sauer to be matched up against Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk throughout this series. Ruslan Salei was a bright spot for the Avalanche against the Wild as well, kick-starting what had been a god-awful Avs powerplay in the regular season. Still, it's hard to argue with a blueline that reads as a veritable roll call of future hall-of-famers. Edge: Detroit.

Goaltending: It was the one glaring, universal quesiton mark regarding the top-seeded Red Wings, but even still, few could have predicted how sour things would turn in nets for Detroit. 43-year-old Dominik Hasek was bailed out by his team despite turning up mediocre performances in Games 1 and 2 against the Predators, but even they couldn't save him in Games 3 and 4 and after yielding 8 goals through those two games, Hasek was promptly pulled by Wings coach Mike Babcock, setting the stage for Chris Osgood to take over the goaltending duties for the remainder of the series -- and presumably the remainder of the playoffs. While Osgood performed admirably in allowing just one goal through wins in Games 5 and 6 to close out Nashville, the veteran netminder proved hot and cold through the regular season and let's face it -- the Preds' offense doesn't even compare to that of the high-flying Avs. Meanwhile, Jose Theodore has been partying like it's 2002 -- the year the ex-Hab won the Hart and Vezina trophies. Theodore has still never lost a first-round series, but he's never won a second-round series either. History aside, however, the Avs netminder was stellar in the first round and while he'll have a decidedly tougher time against a far more talented squad, he has shown in this, his comeback season, that he still has the ability to steal games -- something that can't be said for the guy on the other end of the ice. Edge: Colorado.

Overall: The Red Wings had their hands full with the Predators in the first round and the aforementioned quesitons regarding goaltending abound. Despite owning the West's top seed, the Wings' mediocre offensive numbers in the first-round brought into the limelight the well-hidden fact that Detroit desperately lacks secondary scoring, thanks in no small part to the disappearing acts pulled by Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson in said series. Colorado, meanwhile, has a spectacular offense that has the ability to pick apart Chris Osgood -- as long as they aren't kept in check by Detroit's stellar defense. Complete with a hot goaltender, it's tough not to pick the Avs for the upset here in what should be a long, brutal yet classic semifinal series. Prediction: Colorado in seven.

No comments: