NHL Western Conference Semifinal Preview
The first round of the NHL Western Conference playoffs was exactly as advertised — exciting, physical, and downright fun to watch. The second round will feature two Stanley Cup winners from the last ten years, a Cinderella team, and the Minnesota Wild. The first matchup will see the Chicago Blackhawks taking on the Minnesota Wild, and the second matchup will see the Anaheim Ducks facing the Calgary Flames. Both series are going to fun to watch, and I expect them to be very close games and go down to the wire. With that, let’s take a look at each matchup and break down who will be heading to the Conference Finals.
Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild
Prediction: Minnesota in 7
UPSET ALERT! This one wasn’t easy, and I’m still not sold on it, but I believe the Minnesota Wild have what it takes to beat the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups since 2010 and have a great team to make it three in six years, but I don’t like their goaltending situation. As I’ve said before, goaltending in the playoff is key, but right now the Blackhawks are not getting the goaltending they need from Corey Crawford to make it past the Wild. Joel Quenneville has already committed to going with Crawford for game one, despite getting outplayed by Scott Darling in the first round — a decision that may prove costly in the end.
|Corey Crawford||Scott Darling|
|Goals Against Average||4.19||2.21|
Don’t get me wrong, Crawford is a great goalie, but Darling has earned the opportunity to be the guy for the Blackhawks, and if Crawford doesn’t get off to a great start game one, coach Q will have some tough questions to answer. It’s still very possible that the Hawks come out of this series victorious because they have the experience in the locker room to bring their game to another level, and they averaged just over three goals per game in the first round.
For Minnesota, the task is very simple — shut down Jonathan Toews and company. It’s easier said than done of course, but Toews is the current leading scorer in the playoffs (3G, 5A) and his teammates Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith both sit inside the top ten with seven points (2G, 5A). Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will have the task of shutting down the top line, and with Suter averaging just over 29 minutes a game, Chicago will have their hands full. The advantage that the Wild have is in the special teams category — they sport the best power play in the league at 33.3% and have a penalty kill that is fifth amongst the remaining playoff teams. With Chicago’s power play and penalty kill ranked last amongst the remaining Western Conference teams, Minnesota has the advantage they need to dominate this series outside of five-on-five play.
In the end, this series will be decided in nets. I picked the Blackwahks to beat the Wild at the beginning of the playoffs, but if Crawford can’t find his game, it may be too little too late for them to come back.
Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames
Prediction: Anaheim in 6
Can we all just give the Jack Adams Trophy to Bob Hartley right now? What the Flames and he have accomplished this season is remarkable, but I don’t think they will get past the Ducks (yes, I know I said that about them against Vancouver, but the Ducks are not the Canucks).
The Ducks disposed of the Jets in four games and reminded the NHL that they are serious contenders in the West this year. Frederik Andersen was a bit of a wildcard going into the playoffs but finished the series with a 2.20 GAA and a .924 SV%. Offensively, Corey Perry lead the way for the Ducks, scoring three goals and adding four helpers, and the duo of Ryan Kesler and Jacob Silfverberg combined for five goals and six assists in the first round. There’s no question that Bruce Boudreau’s team is definitely the better team on paper, but the Flames are going to be a much tougher opponent than the Jets were in the first round.
As for the Flames, they need to keep doing what they’ve been doing all year — proving the haters wrong. Hartley has his team believing they can beat any team on any given night, and his players are starting to believe it. The top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler combined for seven goals in the first round, almost 40% of their teams production, and if Calgary has any chance of moving on to the next round, they will need their secondary players to chip in every night.
The third line of Michael Ferland, Matt Stajan, and David Jones was instrumental in shutting down the Canucks offense, and Ferland himself dished out a whopping 40 hits to go along with his four points (2G, 2A) in the series. In nets, Jonas Hiller will get a chance to face his former team in the playoffs, and there’s no question he would like nothing more than to show the Ducks letting him go in the offseason was a mistake. He was spectacular in the first round, finishing he series with a 2.20 GAA and a .931 SV%, and was their best player in the first round by far.
In the end, I don’t think the Flames will be able to match up with the Ducks on a physical or skill level, and the magic we’ve become accustomed to all season long will finally come to an end. Sorry, Flames fans.