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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Vancouver vs. Dallas

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Vancouver vs. Dallas

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Vancouver vs. Dallas
April 10th, 2007

(Sports Network) - Roberto Luongo proved to be everything the Vancouver Canucks hoped he'd be when they acquired the standout goaltender from Florida Panthers in a blockbuster trade over the summer. With the Vezina Trophy candidate turning in great performances between the pipes on a near-nightly basis, Vancouver orchestrated a 13-point turnaround from a subpar 2005-06 campaign to claim its second Northwest Division title in three seasons.

Luongo justified the four-year, $27-million contract he signed with the Canucks shortly after the trade. The 28-year-old All-Star started 75 of the team's 82 games and recorded 47 wins, one short of the NHL record established by Martin Brodeur this season, along with a 2.28 goals-against average and five shutouts. His .921 save percentage was fourth-best among league netminders.

The Canucks hope those outstanding numbers can translate into wins in the postseason, a stage Luongo will be experiencing for the first time in his career.

Luongo's presence and the steady play of unheralded defensemen Sami Salo (14 goals, 23 assists), Mattias Ohlund (11 goals, 20 assists), Kevin Bieksa (12 goals, 30 assists) and Willie Mitchell enabled Vancouver to top the NHL with an 86.9 percent success rate of killing penalties. Salo also led the team with a plus-21 rating.

While the defense was sound, the Canucks did have trouble scoring goals at times this season. Twin brothers Daniel Sedin (36 goals, 48 assists) and Henrik Sedin (10 goals, 71 assists) were very productive on the top line, but five-time All-Star Markus Naslund compiled just 24 goals and 60 points, his lowest totals since 1998-99. Bryan Smolinski (18 goals, 26 assists) also disappointed after being acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline, as the veteran center put up only four goals and three assists in 20 games following the deal.

As a team Vancouver tied for 21st in the league with 217 goals and ranked just 20th overall in power-play percentage (17.2%).

DALLAS STARS (6th seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 50-25-7

2006 PLAYOFFS: Lost 4-1 to Colorado, conference quarterfinals

Dallas had to endure a litany of injuries to key players throughout the season, but the Stars closed out the year with a flourish to secure the sixth seed in the competitive Western Conference. Dallas went 12-2-2 over its final 16 games and received a huge lift down the stretch with captain Brenden Morrow's return from wrist surgery.

Like Vancouver, the Stars used outstanding goaltending and defense to reach the playoffs, but were inconsistent on the offensive end.

Dallas, which surrendered the second-fewest shots in the league and tied for third overall in fewest goals allowed (193), also features an All-Star netminder in Marty Turco and boasts one of the NHL's deepest and most seasoned defense units. Philippe Boucher (19 goals, 32 assists) was selected to this year's All-Star Game, an honor in which fellow blueliners Sergei Zubov (12 goals, 42 assists), Mattias Norstrom and Darryl Sydor (5 goals, 16 assists) have each earned multiple times during their careers.

Turco's consistent play between the pipes have helped offset Dallas' offensive inconsistencies. The 31-year-old ranked fourth in the NHL with a 2.23 GAA and registered six shutouts along with a .910 save percentage.

The Stars' 217 goals tied the Canucks for 21st place, but that low figure can be partly attributed to the lengthy time missed by Morrow and the still- dangerous Mike Modano (43 points), who was limited to just 59 games because of hip and groin injuries but still ranked second on the club with 22 goals. Morrow (16 goals, 15 assists) had 11 points in 12 games after returning to the lineup in mid-March, and the offense received another boost from the trade- deadline pickup of left wing Ladislav Nagy (12 goals, 43 assists) from Phoenix.

Playmaking center Mike Ribeiro (18 goals, 41 assists) paced Dallas with 59 points, while veteran left wing Jere Lehtinen led the team with 26 goals. The Stars have been strong on the power play, where the offensive skills of Boucher and Zubov are definite assets.

Dallas hopes to reverse a recent trend of bowing out early in the postseason. The Stars were seeded second in last year's Western Conference playoffs but got ousted in five games by Colorado in the quarterfinals. Seeded fifth in 2004, Dallas also fell to the Avalanche in five games during that season's opening round.

MATCHUP

This intriguing quarterfinal pits two of the West's best teams over the second half of the season as well as two of the league's stingiest defensive clubs. Both possess top-notch goaltenders capable of being the difference in what appears to be an evenly-matched series, and offensive units that have been hit-or-miss all year long.

I give Dallas a slight edge because of its experience, defensive depth and superiority on the power play. The Stars have been playing excellent hockey since their veteran leaders returned to action, while the late-season acquisitions of players like Norstrom and Nagy are the type of moves that can spring a team for a deep playoff run.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Stars in 7

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