by Christopher Shepard - 4/21/2006
A poet once who once said, "The West is the best" may as well have been describing the Detroit Red Wings; dominators of all things NHL this season. But it is playoffs time once again in the NHL's Western Conference and any of the seven other conference contenders will look to deny the Red Wings their date with destiny.
In part two of our NHL playoffs overview we'll look at how the NHL's Western Conference teams stack up. Let the battles begin tonight as the second season of an exciting 2005/2006 playoffs begins this weekend with four big series. If you are betting on these futures, keep in mind that all wagers have action with the betting capped at $500.
Lines are courtesy of Bodog.
Detroit Red Wings
The No. 1 ranked Detroit Red Wings begin the playoffs by hosting the No. 8 Edmonton Oilers on Friday Night at 7 p.m. The Red Wings will look to sweep the series as they have the power and strength to dominate the out-matched Oilers. Considering how well the Red Wings did in their division; a remarkable 25-3-4 while notching 54 of a possible 64 points, makes the sweep of the Oilers not only realistic, but highly probable due to the assassin-like quality of shot execution the Red Wings exhibited this year. The Red Wings won the President's Cup this season by scoring 124 points, good enough for the fifth most in NHL history. Only five teams in NHL history have won both the President's Cup and the Stanley Cup, but you can bet that the Red Wings will try to be the sixth.
Strengths: You can't swing a cat by its tail and not hit the Red Wing's strengths. From Steve Yzerman all the way back to Chris Osgood, the Red Wings are an excellent all-around team and have the street credit to go all the way; including goal stopping ability that they will count on if they go deep into a series.
Weakness: Time waits for no man and nowhere is this more true than on the Red Wings. With an average age of 33, the Red Wings will skate the oldest (experienced) team (and perhaps the slowest) of the 16 playoff teams. Detroit will need to win early and often to keep series to the least amount of games possible. Another liability for Detroit could be their No.2 goalie Manny Legace, who only has five playoff games under his mask, hopefully for the ancient ones they won't need him - too much.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 1/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 5/2
The No. 3 ranked Calgary Flames will host the No. 6 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Friday night at 10 p.m. televised live by OLN and the CBC. However, if the Flames hope to move on in this series they'll have to keep up with the lightning speed of the Mighty Ducks -- which is much easier said than done. Calgary allowed only 200 goals this season, a league low, and will need to dominate on defense and hope that the puck falls into their opponent's net once in a while; they'll need some offensive breaks if they hope to keep winning 1 goal games.
Strengths: The Flames' success begins and ends behind the crease and awesome goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. In fact Calgary's defense is so good, in a year of increased goals scored per game; the Flames allowed the leagues fewest goals at 2.41 per game. Calgary's defense has got to be considered one of the premier defenses in the NHL.
Weakness: As good as the Flames are on defense they are equally poor on offense (think Baltimore Ravens in the NFL). A good trend for totals bettors to look at is that 17 percent of Calgary's games have been decided by one point; either 1-0 or 2-1, making the under a tasty bet when looking at the Flames individual games.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 3/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 7/1
The No. 2 ranked Dallas Stars host the No. 7 ranked Colorado Avalanche on Saturday at 3 p.m. in a rematch of the first round of the playoffs of 2004 when Colorado beat the Stars in five games. While the teams are the same, the names have changed and Dallas looks to come out of this series with a better result than they got last time. The Stars go into the series as the third highest point scoring team in the NHL with 112. Dallas won 12 games that were decided by shootouts this season, the most in the league. Unfortunately for the Stars, they won't be able to rely upon the shoot-out as the playoffs go to sudden death OT. They'll have to figure out how to win games in extra time or experience another early exit at the hands of the Avalanche.
Strengths: When looking at the Stars it is very hard to ignore the impact that Mike Modano has had in the postseason. Modano is the team's offensive leader in games played (144), goals (51), assists (76) and points (127). Modano has been injured and will likely be skating at less than 100 percent, which means puck stud Forward Jason Arnott will need to rise to the occasion. The Stars are also loaded with veteran talent and one of the games' great goaltenders in Marty Turco.
Weakness: As this team has aged, and there are not a lot of significant differences between this year's edition and the team that was bounced in 2004, they are slow. The Stars also are not great on the power play, which means one of the greatest advantages in hockey is neutralized.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 7/2
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 7/1
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks will need to continue the momentum as they closed out the 2005-06 campaign riding an eight-game win streak. They'll travel to unlikely host Nashville where they have not won this season to start their series on Friday at 8 p.m. The Sharks, next to the New Jersey Devils, are one of the hottest teams in the league. Led by Thornton and Cheechoo, other players will have to raise the level of their game. San Jose will need the support of Patrick Marleau, Nils Ekman, Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier and Alyn McCauley, who will all need to pressure the Nashville defense. However, if the playoff series mirrors the season series the Sharks will most likely fall short in Game 7.
Strengths: The Sharks are big and physical and that plays to their advantage against the Predators. With the speed, ability to crash the net and clear out the crease, the Sharks are a dangerous team and go in for the kill when they smell blood. The Sharks are 30-8-2 in the 40 games they have taken the lead, good enough for seventh best in the NHL.
Weakness: The Sharks lack depth on offense.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 11/2
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 12/1
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
The speed of the No. 6 ranked Mighty Ducks will be challenged by the staunch defense of the No. 3 Calgary Flames on Friday night at 10 p.m. The Ducks are one of the NHL's hottest teams and have notched a 14-5-1 record in their last 20 games. Anaheim will try to use their blazing speed to get by the offensively challenged Calgary Flames, but like most teams in the league will find that goals come at a premium and will need to figure out how to utilize their inexperienced forwards in the playoffs against a savvy defensive-minded Flames.
Strengths: One place the Ducks can look to for experience and leadership is been-there-done-that goaltender J.S. Giguere. Despite the rocky start to the season Giguere has stepped up famously at season's end. In 2003 he took Anaheim to Game 7 of the 2003 Finals winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the loss to the New Jersey Devils. Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer bring awesome speed and goal scoring ability and will be difficult to restrain.
Weakness: Players' inexperience in post-season play as well as a long grueling end of season campaign that would leave even the most conditioned athlete winded.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 8/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 25/1
The No. 7 ranked Colorado Avalanche hope for similar playoff success against the No. 2 Dallas Stars when they face off their series at Dallas on Saturday at 3 p.m. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs the Avalanche sent the Stars packing after five games in the first round. Colorado will rely on the talent and experience of veterans Joe Sakic and Rob Blake if they hope for the same result as in 2004. This year's seventh place finish is uncharted territory for the Avalanche, who are accustomed to ending the season nearer to the top rather than in the cellar. They have a long road ahead of them to say the least. This journey will be made somewhat easier by the injury to all-star Predator goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Strengths: Center Joe Sakic enters the 2005-06 postseason tied with Maurice Richard for the most career playoff overtime goals (six). However, the drop-off is quite big after the veteran. Sakic can't play the entire game -- but when he is on the ice, watch out.
Weakness: The Avalanche's defense and goaltending have been porous to say the least and they have given up a lot of goals this year so they picked up Canadiens' goaltender Jose Theodore. However, he has missed 25 games due to an injured foot and probably won't be in the best shape for the series. Gamblers should note that of the playoff teams, the Avalanche have the dubious record of being the NHL's worst road team.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 14/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 33/1
The Nashville Predators earned a team record of 106 points this year, a No. 4 ranking and home ice advantage against the San Jose Sharks starting on Friday at 8 p.m. on TSN. With 49 wins this year, the Predators have every reason to feel like their season was a success. Much like the Rangers/Devils series, the Predators would have welcomed the chance to play the pre-Thornton Sharks than hot streaking (eight wins in a row to close out the season) San Jose. These teams split their season series, with the Predators wining two 1-goal affairs in Nashville and losing two OT games in San Jose. If the season series is any indication (it isn't) on how their playoff series will go, the Predators without Vokoun should be glad of a split in the first two games.
Strengths: The Predators greatest strength was eliminated from the playoffs by a season-ending blood clot and now the Predators need the advantage of their home ice where they notched a remarkable 32-8-1 record. Meanwhile, Yanic Perreault and Mike Sillinger are ranked within the league's top five at winning face offs. Oddly enough, the Predators have won 23 of the 36 games in which the team has fallen behind, 1-0.
Weakness: Defensively, the Predators lead the league in short-handed goals allowed (13), which you can't do in the playoffs. Offensively the Predators are one of the worst teams in the league on the power play and that could definitely hurt them when it comes to playing bigger teams like the Sharks. There is also the tragedy behind the crease as their starting goalie Tomas Vokoun (1,824 saves this season!) is out for the playoffs-which could likely be the reason behind the one and done series I anticipate for the Predators.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 10/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 33/1
The Oilers must have breathed a sigh of relief when they found out that at least they didn't have to meet Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. The No. 8 Oilers made the playoffs four times since 1998 and each time lost to Dallas. This year they'll travel to Detroit to play the Red Wings at 7 p.m. on Friday night. Edmonton has had better luck against the Red Wings, meeting them twice in the Stanley Cup finals winning both series by a 4-1 margin. Then again, back then the Oilers had "greater" players.
Strengths: The Oilers finished the season with five players with at least 20 goals, so Edmonton has the weapons to score from several sources. They're coming from the battle-tested Northwest Division where every team has a winning record - this is known as one of the fiercest divisions in the NHL. Chris Pronger is third in the league when it comes to time on ice per game at 27.59 while left winger Ryan Smith is almost unstoppable.
Weakness: Edmonton has not been playing well going into the playoffs and the acquisition of Sergei Samsonov may not help since he has been known to fade in the post-season. Another question is how long can Goalie Dwayne Roloson hold off the fifth highest scoring team in NHL history? Well, he'll need to for the Oilers to have any chance against the Wings.
Odds to Win the Western Conference: 18/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 35/1
There is something irresistible about taking the Sharks at 11/2 to win the conference and 12/1 to win the Stanley Cup. At those odds, I can buffer my medium odds wagers with Detroit Red Wings at even money and most likely come out a winner either way. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions of Doc's Sports NHL picks.