The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

NHL Western Conference Playoff Preview

Posted by Blake Murphy on April 9, 2008

This article has been submitted by Ian Cass. You can also check out the Eastern Conference.

Now we move to the West for the second preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The winner of the Western Conference will, in all likelihood, be your Stanley Cup champion. There are three divisional match ups here, which should make for some heated competition. Again, the record shown is in the past 10 games. Let’s get it started!

1. Detroit Red Wings (7-2-1)
8. Nashville Predators (6-3-1)

The Edge:
Season Series: 5-3 Detroit
Up Front: Detroit
On the Blueline: Detroit
Between the Pipes: Tie
PP: Detroit
PK: Nashville

Barry Trotz has done it again. After watching Timonen, Hartnell, Vokoun, Kariya, and Forsberg leave in the off-season, not many gave Nashville a legitimate shot in the West but here they are. After sneaking into the eighth spot thanks in part to an easy schedule coming in, the Predators have found themselves in a familiar spot: 8th place and facing the Wings. Back in 2004, the Predators surprised the Wings in games three and four but went on to lose the series in six. This year is likely to be a similar story. Since the Wings regular season dominance tends to be overly credited because of the weak Central, it is hard to predict how they will perform come playoff time. But it is safe to be confident they are on their way to the second round. Detroit is healthy again and is looking strong heading into the post-season. Many consider them Cup favorites. The Preds have unfortunate injury issues and are going to have to work hard to avoid a potential sweep here but as we’ve all seen before, a playoff team with good goaltending and nothing to lose can be a pleasant surprise in the playoffs.

Verdict: Detroit in 5

2. San Jose Sharks (7-2-1)
7. Calgary Flames (5-5-0)

The Edge:
Season Series: 3-1 Calgary
Up Front: San Jose
On the Blueline: Tie
Between the Pipes: Tie
PP: San Jose
PK: San Jose (#1 in NHL)

San Jose has been so hot since the trade deadline it’s ridiculous. Prior to their two losses to close out the season, the Sharks had picked up points in 20 consecutive games, 18 of them wins! The addition of Brian Campbell at the deadline was a brilliant move and Nabokov is on his way to his first Vezina. The Flames have had their struggles all season and will have trouble stopping the red-hot Sharks, who have become a possible Stanley Cup favorite. If Kipper gets hot and they play a very strong defensive game, the Flames could steal a couple of games. They did manage to win three of the four meeting between the teams this season but San Jose has been a new team since the deadline. This series will likely be a quick one.

Verdict: San Jose in 5

3. Minnesota Wild (6-2-2)
6. Colorado Avalanche (5-4-1)

The Edge:
Season Series: 5-3 Minnesota
Up Front: Tie
On the Blueline: Colorado
Between the Pipes: Minnesota
PP: Minnesota
PK: Minnesota

In the final game of the regular season, the Avalanche beat the Wild in a shootout to ensure a first round match up between the two Northwest division rivals. Even though these teams played eight times in the regular season, it is hard to predict how they will match up come playoff time. Colorado has a promising group of young forwards to complement a good core of veterans who are all proven winners. Thanks to a couple of “blast from the past” additions at the deadline, the Avalanche have the chance to make a run in the playoffs. However, constant injury woes throughout the season and a big question mark in net have prevented them from remaining consistent all year. They haven’t had the chance to really gel as a team. As for the Wild, everyone knows exactly how Jacques Lemaire will play this one. He will play a very conservative, defensive minded system and ride his goaltender and high quality special teams as far as it will take him. The power play and penalty kill make a big difference in a tight series and Minnesota is among the leagues best in both categories. This series could go either way but I’m predicting that Minnesota’s special teams, defensive consistency, and a timely spark from Gaborik will allow the Wild to sneak into the second round.

Verdict: Minnesota in 7

4. Anaheim Ducks (8-2-0)
5. Dallas Stars (3-5-2)

The Edge:
Season Series: 5-3 Dallas
Up Front: Tie
On the Blueline: Anaheim
Between the Pipes: Tie
PP: Dallas
PK: Dallas

This one is going to be a dandy. Those of you who read my first article back in February know that I’m sticking with the Ducks all the way but I have no doubt that this will be the series to watch in round one. It’s a shame that one of these two teams has to go out so early. The Ducks are the most well rounded team in the league and the defensive core might be too strong to be beat in a seven game series. Dallas is not the same team that went down each of the last three years in the first round but they are going to be in for a tough match up, especially if one or two of Pronger, Schneider, Niedermayer, and Beauchemin are on the ice for most of the game. But Dallas did take the season series, so we’ll see how this one unfolds. This will be the series to watch in the first round.

Verdict: Anaheim in 6

This article has been submitted by Ian Cass. You can also check out the Eastern Conference.

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