Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NHL Playoffs Preview

48 games in the books.

16 teams are left, each 16 wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in early June.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off tonight with three Western Conference series-openers as the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks meet, the Los Angeles Kings begin to defend the Cup against the St. Louis Blues, and then later the Detroit Red Wings play the Anaheim Ducks.

Let's preview how these series may start.

(W8) Minnesota Wild vs. (W1) Chicago Blackhawks
Game 1: Tonight, 8PM - TV: NBC Sports Network

The first ever post-season meeting between these two franchises may favor the Blackhawks when you look at their records, but close examination shows this might not be a walk in the park for the Blackhawks.  In the first meeting of the season, the Minnesota Wild forced the Chicago Blackhawks to a shootout where the Wild came away with the 3-2 win in Minneapolis.

Then in Chicago, the Blackhawks skated away 5-3 winners, but was a game where they led 4-1 at the end of the 1st period before the Wild came back to make things interesting halfway through the 3rd Period.  But Patrick Kane doubled the Blackhawks lead to two with his 12th of the season with less than 9 minutes to play.

The third was earlier this month, when Marian Hossa bounced on a Wild turnover to score the only goal of the game.

The Chicago Blackhawks have had a spectacular season that helped get people talking hockey and not the lockout the preceded it.  However, the Minnesota Wild are not afraid of Chicago's #1 seed, especially since last year's Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, came in as the #8 seed.  Minnesota's ability to keep close may come in handy, but in the end, the Blackhawks talent will move them to the 2nd Round.

Our Prediction: Chicago wins series, 4-2.

(W5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (W4) St. Louis Blues
Game 1: Tonight, 8PM - TV: CNBC

The defending Stanley Cup champions start their quest on the road against the St. Louis Blues, a team they're happy to see, having won all three meetings this season.

The first game was a 4-1 victory where the Kings scored the first three, and then traded goals for the 4-1 victory.  Jeff Carter had two of those four to earn 1st star honors.

The second game was looking to go the Blues way, up 4-2 at the 2nd intermission, before the Kings rallied for four goals in the third (and five unanswered), capped by Anze Kopitar's goal for the 6-4 Kings win.

In the third meeting, Mike Richards scored the go-ahead goal for the Kings with less than three minutes to go in regulation in another game in which the St. Louis Blues had the lead at one point in time.

In order for the Blues to come away with a win, they're going to have to find a way to maintain a lead once they build it.  The way the Kings are able to get quick goals may enable them to play beyond the first round, allowing them to continue their defense of Lord Stanley's Cup.

Our Prediction: Los Angeles wins series, 4-1.

(W7) Detroit Red Wings vs. (W2) Anaheim Ducks
Game 1: Tonight, 10:30PM - TV: NBC Sports Network

The Detroit Red Wings, postseason players for 22 years straight, remember what happened to them in 2003, when as the 2 seed, they got swept by the 7 seeded Anaheim Mighty Ducks.  10 years later, with both teams flipping the roles, they'd love to do what Anaheim did to them.

It's possible we could see revenge this year.

In their three meetings this year, the visiting team won all of them.  The first meeting saw the Anaheim Ducks score three goals in the 3rd Period to earn them a 5-2 victory at the Joe.  Andrew Cogliano scored two, including the game-winner early in the 3rd Period for the Ducks.

Teemu Selane scored the first goal for the Ducks in the first of a weekend pair of games in Anaheim, but then the Red Wings, fueled by Justin Abdelkader's hat trick, poured it on for the 5-1 victory.

On the Sunday game, Red Wing fans who made the trek to the Honda Center showed their true colors as they pushed the Red Wings to a 2-1 victory in a game that included an octopus sighting late in the 3rd Period.  Drew Miller tipped in what would become the game-winner for the Red Wings.

The inability to win at home for either team would benefit the Red Wings, who will wear the road jersey for four of the seven games.  However, the team that prevails will be the one who can show they can win at home, too.  Anaheim has the ability to show that first, and will need Selane's power to push them into the 2nd Round.  The Red Wings, as perennial playoff contenders, come in with a 4-game win streak, and if any team is to pull off the 16 wins, it's a team who gets hot at just the right time.  Just ask the Kings and Coyotes from last year's playoff run.

Our Prediction: No sweep. Detroit wins series, 4-2.

Wednesday we'll preview more of the NHL Playoffs as three more 1st Round series kick off.  Toronto opens their series in Boston, the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the New York Islanders, and the Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks.

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