Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Anaheim

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Anaheim

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Detroit vs. Anaheim
May 8th, 2007

(Sports Network) - Now that the Detroit Red Wings have avoided the early playoff exit that has plagued them in recent years, they can once again concentrate on winning it all.

The Red Wings, who are the Western Conference's top seed for the third consecutive season, are back in the conference finals for the first time since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2002. In two of the previous three postseasons Detroit was eliminated in the opening round and in 2004 the club bowed out in the conference semis.

Detroit appeared to be headed for another short postseason this year before it made a big turnaround in the semifinals against San Jose. The Sharks were ahead two games to one in the series and held a lead in the final minute of Game 4, but Robert Lang tied the test with 34 seconds left in regulation and Mathieu Schneider netted the game-winner in overtime for Detroit. That was the first of three straight victories in the set for the Red Wings as they closed out the matchup in six games.

Legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek was a huge factor in the San Jose series and has been excellent throughout this year's playoffs. The 42-year-old netminder is 8-4 with an amazing 1.51 goals against average and .930 save percentage.

The two-time Hart and six-time Vezina Trophy winner even posted a shutout in Game 6 of the conference semifinals against San Jose. Hasek, who was also Detroit's backstop in its Cup year of 2002, has won his last six games in which he could eliminate the opposition and has three shutouts in those tests.

Hasek's stellar play has been impressive, but a sizeable portion of the credit should also be given to the Red Wings exceptional defensive corps. Detroit has been the hardest team to get shots on goal against in the postseason, as it is allowing just 22.8 shots per game to get through to the net.

Leading the way for the Detroit blueliners is Nicklas Lidstrom, a four-time Norris Trophy winner who is widely considered to be the best defenseman of his generation. The 37-year-old Swede is also one of three finalists in the race for this year's Norris Trophy.

Lidstrom, the 2002 Conn Smythe winner for Detroit, is no stranger to picking up his game in the playoffs. In 23 games during the 2002 playoffs, Lidstrom notched 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists) and already has 11 points (5g, 6a) in 12 contests to match forward Pavel Datsyuk as the Red Wings leading scorer during this postseason.

Lidstrom may have to pick up even more slack now that fellow defenseman Mathieu Schneider will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a broken wrist suffered in Game 5 against San Jose. Schneider was second to Lidstrom in points from a defenseman for Detroit, as he notched two goals and four assists in the first two rounds.

Chris Chelios, the oldest player in the NHL at 45 years old, will see more action on the power play due to Schneider's absence. Chelios himself is a three-time Norris Trophy winner and has one goal and four assists in these playoffs.

Datsyuk has been the best forward for Detroit in the postseason, notching five goals and six assists in 12 games. The 28-year-old Russian also has posted two game-winning goals to tie Lidstrom for the team lead.

Swedish winger Henrik Zetterberg has been another solid contributor for Detroit with four goals and four assists in the first two rounds.

However, Detroit hasn't exactly been an efficient scoring machine in the postseason, as it leads the NHL with 37.1 shots per game, but is last among remaining teams with just 2.58 goals per contest.

The Red Wings have been solid on special teams so far, as they have a 15.9- percent success rate on the power play (10-of-63) while stopping opponents on 53-of-61 opportunities with the man advantage (86.9-percent).

ANAHEIM DUCKS (2nd seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 48-20-14

2007 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Minnesota 4-1 in conference quarterfinals; defeated Vancouver 4-1 in conference semifinals

(Sports Network) - The Anaheim Ducks have breezed through the playoffs up to this point to earn their second straight berth in the Western Conference finals and their third trip to this stage in the last four NHL postseasons.

Last year, the Ducks made it to the conference finals only to be ousted in five games by the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers. However, one of the key players in that series for the Oilers was defenseman Chris Pronger, who is now playing in Anaheim.

The offseason trade for Pronger was already justified by his play during the regular season and the former winner of the Hart and Norris trophies has continued to reinforce his value in the postseason.

Pronger, who was named as a finalist for the Norris Trophy again this year, is leading the Ducks with 11 points in this year's playoffs, as he has notched three goals and eight assists in the club's 10 games.

In addition to Pronger, the Ducks also have Scott Niedermayer, who was also selected as a finalist for the Norris. Niedermayer has one goal and five assists in the playoffs, and his only tally was a big one. Niedermayer scored the series-clinching goal in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Vancouver, as he sent Anaheim to the next round with a shot from the blue line in the contest's second overtime.

If having two of the best defensemen in the league on one team wasn't enough, the Ducks also possess an excellent goaltender in Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Montreal native has been a solid backstop in the regular season over his career, but has performed superbly in the postseason.

The story of Giguere's playoff prowess began in 2003, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the postseason and led Anaheim to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, where the club fell to New Jersey.

In this year's postseason, Giguere is 5-1 with a 1.28 goals against average and .952 save percentage and now has a 23-10 lifetime mark in the playoffs.

Giguere is also 10-1 lifetime in playoff overtime contests, making him just the third goaltender in NHL history to win 10-of-11 OT tilts at any point in their postseason careers. Grant Fuhr achieved it from 1991-93 and Patrick Roy from 1993-96.

One of the best forwards for the Ducks in this year's postseason has been young centerman Ryan Getzlaf, who has three goals and four assists. The Saskatchewan native will turn 22 on May 10, and has 14 points (6g, 8a) in 26 career postseason contests.

Veteran winger Teemu Selanne has also had a solid playoffs for Anaheim, as the 36-year-old owns three goals and three assists so far. The "Finnish Flash" has 27 goals and 26 helpers in 75 career playoff games.

Anaheim has been the top team in this year's playoffs in terms of penalty killing, as the Ducks have foiled 53 of the opposition's 56 power-play opportunities (94.6-percent). The Ducks have also been solid on the power play, scoring on 16.4-percent (9-of-55) of their chances with the man advantage.

MATCHUP

Any time the top two seeds meet in the conference finals there are high expectations for that series and this matchup between the Ducks and Red Wings should not disappoint.

This is the first time that the No. 1 and 2 seeds have met in a conference final series since New Jersey and Ottawa played in the 2003 East finals. The second-ranked Devils won that set in seven games en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Detroit was in the last Western Conference finals between the top two seeds, and defeated second-seeded Colorado in seven games before winning the 2002 Stanley Cup.

Detroit finished just three points ahead of the Ducks in the standings this year and the teams split four regular-season meetings. The games were not high-scoring affairs, a tribute to both clubs' defensive prowess, as just 15 total goals were scored over the four contests.

This is the fourth time Detroit and the Ducks have met in the playoffs. The Red Wings swept Anaheim in the first round of the 1997 and 1999 playoffs only to watch the Ducks return the favor with a shocking four-game sweep in the 2003 conference quarterfinals.

This series will feature all three of the finalists for this year's Norris Trophy and therefore should be a tightly-contested affair.

The loss of Schneider will hurt Detroit in this series by making it even more difficult to score on Anaheim's stingy penalty-killing unit. The Ducks will also use their puck-moving ability to place more pressure on Hasek, who will be forced to make more saves in this series than he had to in the first two rounds.

Overall, this should be a gritty, low-scoring set and Anaheim will be tested more than it has been so far in the postseason, but the Ducks should prevail in the end.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Ducks in 6

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