April 14, 2014

Pucks On The 'Net: Western Conference Playoff Preview


Let's take a look at some interesting numbers in the four playoff matches in the Western Conference.

Colorado vs. Minnesota
  • The Difference Maker: Colorado has a lot of exciting young forwards that spread the offense around nicely. They have a mobile defense but they are prone to inexperience. That will cost them at some point in these playoffs, but not likely against Minnesota. 
  • The Goalie Battle: Sergei Varlamov has been lights out against pretty much everybody this season for Colorado, while Minnesota has had to over come injuries to their top three goaltenders and now rely on the hot but usually unreliable Ilya Bryzgalov..
  • Head To Head This Season: Colorado held the series advantage this season with a 4-0-1 in 5 games. Gabriel Landeskog led all skaters with 3 goals and 6 points while Nathan MacKinnon, Max Talbot and Ryan O'Reilly also scored 3 times. John Mitchell had 1 goal and 5 assists. Zach Parise led Minnesota's attack with 2 goals and 5 points in 4 games. 
  • History Says: These two teams have met in the playoffs twice before, both in the opening round. Minnesota won in 7 games in 2003, while Colorado won in 6 games in 2008.
St. Louis vs Chicago
  • The Difference Maker: St. Louis' trademark depth up front has been decimated by injuries, with David Backes being the biggest blow. Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Brenden Morrow and Olympic hero TJ Oshie are also on the shelf. It seems everyone has jumped off of the St. Louis bandwagon. But Chicago has not been red hot down the stretch, either. Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are expected to return from their own injuries for game one.
  • The Goalie Battle: Ryan Miller was the final piece of St. Louis' Stanley Cup puzzle, in theory at least. Does anybody give Corey Crawford any credit?  
  • Head To Head This Season: St. Louis won 3 of the 5 matches, though 2 were courtesy of the shootout. The Blues attack vs Chicago was led from the back end with 5 assists each from blue-line studs Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Kane and Patrick Sharp led Chicago's attack with identical 2 goal/4 assists efforts.
  • History Says: Historically speaking Chicago has dominated St. Louis in the playoffs, winning 7 of 10 playoff series. St. Louis won the last match-up, but that was back in 2002.

Anaheim vs. Dallas
  • The Difference Maker: These two teams match up fairly well in terms of special teams and size. And Kari Lehtonen could match any of Anaheim's goaltenders on any given night. Anaheim is prone to lack of offense should the deadly Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry tandem ever go cold. But Dallas lacks' Anaheim's blue line depth.
  • The Goalie Battle:Jonas Hiller struggled against the Stars (0-2, 3.91 GAA) while Lehtonen did not play against Anaheim. Anaheim has the depth to recover should Hiller stumble. Does Dallas really turn to Tim Thomas at some point?
  • Head To Head This Season: Dallas took 2 of the 3 meetings this season, all of which were decided in regulation time. Jonas Hiller struggled against the Stars (0-2, 3.91 GAA) while Lehtonen did not play against Anaheim. 
  • History Says: These two teams have twice met in playoffs past, both in the opening round. Anaheim defeated Dallas in six games in 2003, while Dallas won, also in six games, in 2008.
San Jose vs. Los Angeles
  • The Difference Maker: Two serious Stanley Cup contenders collide in this first round match-up with only one to survive. San Jose is always a contender but have never made that next jump. Meanwhile the Kings are scary but lack offense.
  • The Goalie Battle: Jonathan Quick vs Antii Niemi should scare goal scorers on both sides. Niemi has been a bit inconsistent heading into the playoffs, so most will give Quick the slight edge in this department. 
  • Head To Head This Season: LA narrowly won the season series, taking 3 of 5 games, 1 by the shootout. Jeff Carter led the way with 2 goals and 4 points. Joe Pavelski led the way for the Sharks with 3 goals. Interestingly, LA kept Joe Thornton to only 1 goal and 0 assists in 5 games this season.
  • History Says: This will be the third meeting between these two teams, with all series coming since 2011. San Jose won in 2011 opening round in six games. LA won in 7 games in the semi-finals en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
I like Colorado, Chicago, and San Jose to win. If I had to pick an upset in the West I'd go with Dallas but I will play it safe and pick Anaheim.

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