Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Anaheim vs. Vancouver

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Anaheim vs. Vancouver

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Anaheim vs. Vancouver
April 24th, 2007

(Sports Network) - In previous years, the Anaheim Ducks had been dangerous as an underdog in the playoffs, but in this postseason they're out to prove they can also wreak havoc as a favorite.

The Ducks earned their first-ever division title this season and entered the postseason as the second seed in the West, the best playoff rank in team history.

Anaheim made quick work of the Minnesota Wild in the 2007 conference quarterfinals, defeating the No. 7 seed in five games. The Ducks won each of the first three games of the set by one goal, but after losing Game 4 in St. Paul, they posted a 4-1 triumph to close out the series on home ice.

The Ducks displayed their depth at the defensive and goaltending positions in the short series against Minnesota and that is what sets Anaheim apart from the rest of the field.

Anaheim began this series with backup Ilya Bryzgalov as the starting goaltender because regular No. 1 backstop Jean-Sebastien Giguere was given time off to deal with a family medical issue.

Bryzgalov started the first four tests against Minnesota and was 2-1 with a 2.09 goals against average and .929 save percentage. The Russian netminder was pulled midway through the third period of Game 4 and that's where Giguere picked up as the main man between the pipes.

Giguere was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after Anaheim's improbable run to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals and displayed that form in his nearly 70 minutes of action to close out the set against the Wild. The 29-year-old stopped 30- of-31 shots in his two appearances and the Game 5 victory improved his lifetime postseason record to 19-9.

Anaheim boasts one of the league's most talented defensive corps, headlined by a pair of former Norris Trophy winners in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. It was Pronger leading the way for the Ducks in the opening round as the 2000 Hart Trophy recipient led his team with six points (2 goals, 4 assists) from the blueline position.

Niedermayer and fellow defenseman Francois Beauchemin added three points apiece against the Wild.

Ryan Getzlaf, 21, led Anaheim forwards with two goals and three assists in the series, while veteran right winger Teemu Selanne managed just one goal and one helper.

The Ducks were excellent on special teams in the opening round, scoring on 5- of-19 power-play opportunities (26.3-percent) and killing off 28-of-30 penalties (93.3-percent).

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3rd seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 49-26-7

2007 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Dallas 4-3 in conference quarterfinals

REVIEW - Roberto Luongo finally has a playoff series under his belt and, with the way he played during his inaugural set, it's obvious that the goaltender is hardly intimidated by postseason pressure.

Luongo was clearly the best player for Vancouver in its opening-round series against Dallas. The goaltender stopped 228 of the 240 shots he faced in the series and wound up with a 1.41 goals against average and .950 save percentage.

The 28-year-old Montreal native was thrown into the fire in Game 1, as he was forced to stop 72 shots to lead Vancouver to a 5-4 victory in a classic four- overtime battle. That performance set a new club record for saves in a postseason contest and broke the NHL mark for stops in a playoff debut. Luongo also fell one save shy of tying the NHL record Kelly Hrudey of the New York Islanders set against Washington during the 1987 playoffs.

Not a bad way to start your playoff career, and Luongo stayed steady the rest of the way. After giving up the four goals in the opener, Luongo yielded just eight total goals in the final six games of the set.

While Luongo's play in the opening round should give Canucks fans reason for hope, the team's scant offensive output against the Stars was nothing short of alarming.

After scoring five goals in Game 1, Vancouver managed just eight tallies the rest of the way and two of those markers were empty-netters in the closing moments of the 4-1, Game 7 triumph.

The Canucks had four players tied with two goals for the team lead in the set and Taylor Pyatt and Trevor Linden paced the team with five points apiece.

The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, combined for just seven points in the series against Dallas after being the top-two scorers for Vancouver during the regular season. Daniel Sedin led the Canucks with 84 points (36 goals, 48 assists), while the playmaker Henrik added 10 tallies and 71 assists.

The Canucks were dreadful on the power play in the quarterfinal round, as they scored on just 3-of-37 opportunities (8.1-percent). They fared better on the penalty kill, stopping 36-of-40 (90-percent) of their shorthanded situations.

MATCHUP

The Ducks appeared to be all business in their first-round triumph over Minnesota and would like to carry that approach into the conference semis against Vancouver.

Having Giguere's services in goal for an entire series should be a plus for Anaheim and the presence of both Niedermayer and Pronger on the blueline is an extremely valuable asset.

As for Vancouver, even if Luongo plays the way he did against Dallas, the Canucks will still need more of a consistent offensive output to defeat the Ducks.

This should prove to be another low-scoring series for both the Ducks and Canucks, but Anaheim's overall depth and special-teams prowess will prove to be the difference in this set.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Ducks in 6

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Re: Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Anaheim vs. Vancouver

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3)

Leading playoff scorers
Ducks: Goals -- Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Pronger (2); points -- Pronger (6). Sharks: Goals -- Henrik Sedin, Trevor Linden, Mattias Ohlund, Taylor Pyatt, Bryan Smolinski (2); points -- Linden and Pyatt (5).

Goaltenders
Ducks: Ilya Bryzgalov - 3-1, 2.09 GAA, .929 save percentage. Backup -- Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- 1-0, 0.87 GAA, .968 save percentage. Canucks: Robert Luongo -- 4-2, 1.41 GAA, .950 save percentage. Backup: Dany Sabourin.

Keys to series

Evaluating the Northwest Division was a bit like being seduced by the Dark Side. The power was insidiously intoxicating, but it appears to have corrupted.

The Flames got snuffed by Detroit, and the Wild were tamed easily by the Ducks. What does that say about the last surviving team from the Northwest, the Canucks?

Based on statistical analysis alone, the Ducks will win. Lucky thing they actually play the games.

However, if the Canucks got all they could handle from the Stars, imagine how the Ducks will attack. The Stars couldn't score to save their playoff lives, and the lasting image from their latest first-round loss will be of Mike Modano looking up in agony after a late Game 7 scoring opportunity went clang! off the crossbar.

The Ducks have a much deeper, more talented lineup than the Stars, which bodes ill for the Canucks. Plus, a few extra days of rest means dinged Ducks will be healthier than Canucks players aching from the first round.

If not for the Sedin twins and Game 7 legend Linden, who will carry the Canucks' scoring burden? Ask now about the Ducks, because they have a nest of guys to hatch goals, foremost among them Teemu Selanne. Don't forget Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner and Andy McDonald.

And that includes the Ducks' triumvirate of defensemen. Scott Niedermayer, Pronger and Beauchemin, plated jaw and all, figure to be on the ice all game long in some combination and in any circumstance. They outclass the Canucks' defense, which isn't too shabby. However, much depends on the health of Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, who came out of Round 1 the worse for wear with little time to recover.

If the Canucks have an edge in this series, it's Roberto Luongo. He was terrific against the Stars. His numbers pale in comparison to those of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov in Round 1, but consider the opposition.

Randy Carlyle has the Ducks where he wants them, while Canucks counterpart Alain Vigneault had to crack a few heads to get his players to wake up after Game 7's dreary first period.

Prediction: The Ducks' march in April continues into May with an eye on June. They won't look past the Canucks but will nudge them out of the playoffs. Ducks in 5.

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