Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Calgary

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Calgary

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Calgary

April 10th, 2007
(Sports Network) - Detroit put together yet another outstanding regular season, but this is a team that knows firsthand that success from October to March doesn't necessary translate into more wins come playoff time.

The Red Wings will be the Western Conference's top seed for the third consecutive season and were a No. 2 during the 2003 playoffs. However, Detroit has failed to advance to the conference finals in each of the previous three postseasons and has been an opening-round victim twice during that span.

Detroit was shocked in six games by eighth-seeded Edmonton in last year's quarterfinals and was swept by Anaheim in the first round as a second seed in 2003. The Red Wings did win their quarterfinal series the following year, but were ousted by sixth-seeded Calgary in six games in the semis.

Despite Detroit's string of playoff disappointment, it's fair to say the road to the Stanley Cup finals has still gone through the Motor City. After all, the Ducks, Flames and last season's Oilers all wound up winning the Western Conference tournament the year they defeated the Wings.

Although some of the familiar names (i.e. Yzerman, Shanahan) are now gone, the Red Wings once again emerged as the top point-getters in the West. A late- season slide by Nashville helped Detroit seize another Central Division title, and the Red Wings withstood a strong challenge from Anaheim to earn home-ice advantage through the entire conference playoffs.

Puck possession and strong defense are the keys to Detroit's success. The Red Wings took the most shots and gave up the fewest in the league, while their 191 goals allowed ranked second among all NHL teams.

Detroit may be old on the backline, but it's still as good and deep as anyone defensively. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom (13 goals, 49 assists) could be on his way to a fourth career Norris Trophy and 37-year-old Mathieu Schneider (11 goals, 41 assists) remains a premier puck-mover and power-play point man. Chris Chelios is still a tremendous penalty killer at age 44, while Danny Markov (4 goals, 12 assists) turned in an excellent season opposite Lidstrom.

That stellar group helped 42-year-old goaltender Dominik Hasek finish second overall in goals-against average (2.05) and shutouts (8) in his Red Wings return. Hasek was between the pipes when Detroit last captured the Stanley Cup in 2002, while backup Chris Osgood (2.38 GAA) was the regular netminder when the team won it all in 1998.

On offense, Detroit's top line of center Pavel Datsyuk (27 goals, 60 assists), left wing Henrik Zetterberg (33 goals, 35 assists) and right wing Tomas Holmstrom (30 goals, 22 assists) was one of the most productive in hockey. The unit hasn't played together, however, since late February because of a back injury to Zetterberg. The Swedish sensation, who totaled 68 points in just 63 games, is expected to be ready for this series, however.

The Red Wings struggled at times to get production from its other lines, but the trade deadline acquisitions of Kyle Calder (14 goals, 21 assists) and Todd Bertuzzi has provided greater scoring depth. Calder clicked immediately when paired with veteran center Robert Lang (19 goals, 33 assists), as the former Flyer amassed five goals and nine assists in 19 games following the trade with Philadelphia. A bad back and late-season concussion limited Bertuzzi to only 15 games, but the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder is a former 46-goal scorer whose physical presence can create obvious matchup problems.

CALGARY FLAMES (8th seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 43-29-10

2006 PLAYOFFS: Lost 4-3 to Anaheim, conference quarterfinals

REVIEW: Calgary also had a quick and disappointing ending to its 2006 postseason, as the Flames fell in seven games to Anaheim in the quarterfinals despite earning a third seed as the Northwest Division champion. This year the Flames had to fight just to make the playoffs, edging a hard-charging Colorado team by a single point for the final berth in the West.

With superstar right wing Jarome Iginla (39 goals, 55 assists) again leading the way, Calgary finished seventh in the NHL with 255 goals, a significant upgrade from the 216 the club generated in 2005-06. Linemate Alex Tanguay, the Flames' top offseason pickup, was an immediate hit in his new city, as the former Colorado standout led the team with 59 assists and amassed a career- best 81 points. The re-acquisition of veteran center Craig Conroy (13 goals, 24 assists), a valued contributor during Calgary's memorable run to the 2004 Cup finals, in late January also paid dividends. The 35-year-old totaled 21 points and had a plus-10 rating in 28 games since the trade with Los Angeles.

Calgary also received career years out of unheralded center Daymond Langkow (33 goals, 44 assists) and left wing Kristian Huselius (34 goals, 43 assists), while defenseman Dion Phaneuf (17 goals, 33 assists) backed up his terrific rookie season of 2005-06 with a sophomore campaign that was just as good.

Phaneuf and the physical Robyn Regehr give the Flames an excellent top defense pairing in front of reigning Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff. The All- Star goaltender wasn't as dominant as last year's sensational campaign, but his 40 victories, 2.46 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and seven shutouts this season can hardly be considered substandard numbers.

There's plenty of depth on the backline as well, as Roman Hamrlik (7 goals, 31 assists) put together a very good all-around year and Brad Stuart (7 goals, 15 assists), acquired from Boston in February, proved to be an nice addition to the unit.

Calgary got into the postseason fray on the strength of an NHL-best 30-9-2 record at home. The Flames weren't nearly as strong on the road, finishing with a 13-20-8 mark away from the Pengrowth Saddledome, and their No. 22 overall ranking on the penalty kill (80.4 percent) is also cause for concern.

MATCHUP

The pressure is on for Detroit and head coach Mike Babcock because of the playoff failures over the last few years. A better Red Wings team than this one lost in this exact scenario to an Edmonton club that wasn't as talented as the one Calgary will be bringing to Joe Louis Arena on Thursday. Therefore, expect this series to be a tightly-contested battle not usually associated with a one-versus-eight matchup.

The Red Wings and Flames also split their four meetings during the regular season, another clue that these teams are much more evenly matched than their seedings might indicate.

These were the NHL's two best teams in terms of home winning percentage, so whichever one can play better on the road figures to have a distinct advantage. Judging by this season's respective records, that team figures to be Detroit. Calgary hasn't fared well at Joe Louis Arena in recent years, and will have its hands full trying to win in the Motor City against a determined Red Wings' squad anxious to atone for its past shortcomings.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Red Wings in 6

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