Ducks, Red Wings should square off in West

Expect Anaheim to ride its defence, advance past Red Wings to Cup final

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Scott Niedermayer

ALL HE NEEDS IS A FLYING V, THE TRIPLE DEKE AND HIS TRUSTY KNUCKLE PUCK. Scott Niedermayer will team up with Oilers defector Chris Pronger and Hawks defector Joshua Jackson to defeat the Red Wings in the Western Conference final.

DETROIT RED WINGS (1) vs. CALGARY FLAMES (8)
Forget the underdog talk; this is Goliath vs. Goliath. Both the Flames and Wings have strong goaltending and a deep offence; however, Detroit has a slight speed advantage, while Calgary’s stable of defensive Clydesdales dwarfs Detroit’s smaller forwards.

On paper, Calgary looks more battle-ready, but don’t underestimate the Wings. Vets like Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper save their best hockey for the playoffs, and Frankenstein’s monster, er, Todd Bertuzzi, is a formidable forechecker. Goalie Dominik Hasek still wins when he wants to, and he appears interested in winning this year. Sniper Henrik Zetterberg’s anticipated return from injury will give Hockeytown a big offensive boost.

Like the Indianapolis Colts three months ago, Detroit enters the playoffs expected to choke early. But the pressure is off, and the Wings’ skating will exploit the Flames’ poor mobility on defence.

Prediction: Red Wings in six.

ANAHEIM DUCKS (2) vs. MINNESOTA WILD (7)
You have to respect the Minnesota Wild; they have great fans, a great coach in Jacques Lemaire, great speed and phenomenal penalty killing. Netminder Niklas Backstrom’s season was a cute rags-to-riches story, too.

Yet the Wild, like virtually every team on the planet, can’t measure up to the juggernaut Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are loaded with firepower and Teemu Selanne is frothing at the mouth, determined to overcome his hideous Jofa helmet and raise the Stanley Cup.

Any team with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer patrolling the blueline deserves a bye to the conference final. The Ducks’ all-world tandem can protect any goalie for 30 minutes a night; I played net for them once, and we won 4-2. I faced two shots.

Prediction: Ducks in five.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3) vs. DALLAS STARS (6)
Miss the old NHL? Want some tight-checking 2-1 double-overtime wars? Look no further. The Canucks and Stars, two of the league’s top defensive teams, will pound each other into oblivion. Let’s just hope someone reminds them to hit the black rubber thingy at the net once in a while.

With the Sedin twins, an aging-but-still-dangerous Markus Naslund and practically unbeatable Roberto Luongo, Vancouver boasts the series’ more dynamic players. But the Stars will expose the Canucks’ Achilles heel " an extreme lack of depth.

Watching Dallas play is like listening to Ben Stein read the dictionary, but the Stars don’t care. They’re tough, defensively responsible up front and deep enough to overcome the Luongo factor...barely.

Prediction: Stars in seven.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS (4) vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS (5)
The ugly futuristic jerseys, trendy animal team names and rip-roarin’ offence should make the Predators-Sharks tilt America’s favourite first-round series. It’s a shame these two play each other in round one, as each squad has the youth, speed, skill and toughness to go far in the playoffs.

Expect a fight to the death between two legitimate contenders with the Preds emerging on top. Both teams have amazing depth at centre, but Nashville has more experience and talent on the wings and should create matchup nightmares for San Jose.

The Sharks’ slower defenders and inconsistent goalie platoon " Nabokov and Toskala are rarely hot simultaneously " will sink them, especially since history suggests that Forsberg guy amps up his game in the playoffs.

Prediction: Predators in seven.

FUTURE ROUNDS
In round two, Detroit will oust the pesky Stars in six games and the more experienced Ducks will boot Nashville in six. Detroit, weakened by the physical Stars and Flames, will succumb to the Ducks in five.

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