Western Conference, without Stanley Cup winner since 2002, has top contenders

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
Apr 9, 2007
The Hockey News

Western Conference, without Stanley Cup winner since 2002, has top contenders

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
Apr 9, 2007

Five of the top six teams in the overall standings at season's end Sunday were in the West, where team defence - so important in the post-season - is more prevalent than in the East.

Here's a look at the matchups (seedings in parentheses):

Calgary (8) at Detroit (1)

Opener: Thursday 7 p.m. ET

Season series: each team won twice at home in regulation time.

Last playoff meeting: 2004, Calgary upset Detroit 4-2 in semifinal.

Last spring: both out in first round - Calgary against Anaheim, 4-3, and Detroit against Edmonton, 4-2.

In the nets: A goaltending duel between Dominik Hasek (2.05 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) and Miikka Kiprusoff (2.46, .917) looms.

Injury front: Detroit star Henrik Zetterberg hasn't played since Feb. 24 but will be ready for series although not at peak form right away . . . Wings' Todd Bertuzzi, who hurt his neck last Thursday, is expected to be cleared to play . . . Calgary defenceman Robyn Regehr might be hampered after hurting a knee last week.

Quote: "They're a chippy team. They play strong defensively. It's tough to get scoring chances on them. They come back real hard. That's something we just have to battle through." - Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom.

Synopsis: Calgary 10th and Detroit 21st in power-play rankings, but Detroit seventh and Calgary 22nd in penalty killing . . . The Red Wings' speed will cause the Flames problems . . . Red Wings' have the most depth with a dozen double-digit scorers . . . Also, Red Wings allowed 27 fewer goals than Flames . . . Detroit finished 17 points ahead of Calgary so is the obvious favourite.

Minnesota (7) at Anaheim (2)

Opener: Wednesday 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: home team won all four games and all were one-goal decisions. One of Minnesota's wins was in a shootout. Last met Dec. 31.

Last playoff meeting: 2003, Anaheim won conference final 4-0.

Last spring: Minnesota didn't qualify; Anaheim lost conference final 4-1 to Edmonton.

In the nets: Nicklas Backstrom, Minnesota's 29-year-old rookie Finn, led the league with 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage. Anaheim's J.S. Giguere has good numbers, too (2.26, .918).

Injury front: Wild's Pavol Demitra (strained leg muscle) missed last two games but should be ready for opener.

Quote: "Take care of the puck, get in their end and go on from there. That's what we're after." - Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer.

Synopsis: Anaheim has strongest offence but Minnesota's neutral-zone trap can smother opponents . . . Both have top-notch power plays and penalty killers . . . Minnesota's Marian Gaborik scored 30 goals in only 48 games . . . The Ducks finished only three points ahead of the Wild, who are 22-5-4 since Jan. 27.

Dallas (6) at Vancouver (3)

Opener: Wednesday 10 p.m. ET

Season series: each team won at home by one goal before Vancouver home shootout win and then Dallas home overtime win in last meeting Feb. 25.

Last playoff meeting: 1994, Vancouver won 4-1 in second round.

Last spring: Vancouver didn't qualify; Dallas knocked off by Colorado 4-1 in first round.

In the nets: Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (2.29, .921) makes first playoff appearance, while Marty Turco (2.23, .910) looks to shine after previous playoff disappointments.

Injury front: X-rays of Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa's foot show no breaks and he's declared himself "100 per cent certain" for Wednesday.

Quote: "I think it will be like a chess match. I don't think it'll be very high-scoring, and special teams will play a big part, too." - Canucks' Brendan Morrison.

Synopsis: Two strong-checking teams collide . . . Dallas finished with two more points than Vancouver . . . Stars have the superior power play, but Vancouver is No. 1 in the league in penalty killing . . . Luongo gives the Canucks a goaltending edge, and that could be the difference.

San Jose (5) at Nashville (4)

Opener: Wednesday 8 p.m.

Season series: split first two followed by 5-0 Nashville win and 4-3 Nashville win in shootout in last meeting Feb. 28.

Last playoff meeting: 2006, San Jose won first-round series 4-1.

Last spring: San Jose eliminated 4-2 by Edmonton in second round.

In the nets: Nashville's Tomas Vokoun (2.40, .920) missed last spring's playoffs due to blood clots; San Jose goes with Evgeni Nabokov (2.29, .914).

Injury front: Steve Sullivan (back spasms) won't be ready so the Predators will welcome the return of Martin Erat, who hasn't played since hurting a knee March 13.

Quote: "Discipline is going to be huge." - Predators forward Scott Hartnell.

Synopsis: San Jose scored nine power-play goals in eliminating Nashville last spring so staying out of the penalty box will be a priority for the Preds . . . The Sharks have the second-best power play in the NHL. Nashville ranked 19th on power plays, but the Predators have better penalty killing than San Jose . . . Nashville finished with only three more points than the Sharks . . . Joe Thornton had a league-best 24 points in March but has previously been a playoff underachiever . . . With Peter Forsberg and Jason Arnott, Nashville is stronger than when lost last year.

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Western Conference, without Stanley Cup winner since 2002, has top contenders