Nicklas Lidstrom, left, makes it tough for opponents to attack the Red Wings. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Hockey Night In Canada analyst Scott Morrison makes his predictions for the West
Last Updated Sun., Apr. 6, 2008
DETROIT (1) vs. NASHVILLE (8)
Strengths — There are too many to mention. Ah, they score tons, don't give up many, their special teams are great, they have one of the best defencemen/players in the game in Nicklas Lidstrom, have lots of experience, are well coached, good home and away. You get the idea. Until they were injured later in the season, the Red Wings for most of the season were far and away the best team in the league. They also managed to shake a few monkeys off their backs last spring, so they have playoff success and hunger to build on.
Weaknesses — Not many to speak of, other than Dominik Hasek being injury prone and at times a little inconsistent. But they still have a good alternative in Chris Osgood. The question always seems to be whether they have the toughness to survive four rounds. They insist they do and didn't exactly wilt last spring, but the question always seems to be asked. They also need to get Danny Cleary healthy and scoring to inspire some more secondary offence.
Key player — Pavel Datsyuk. He proved he can play in the playoffs last season. He led the Red Wings in scoring most of the year and along with Henrik Zetterberg has to be a dominant, dangerous player.
Strengths — What a success story they have been. After losing so much talent in the past year, they still found a way to battle back and get into the playoffs, finishing 5-1 after losing five straight and appearing dead. They have two options in goal, which helps, and J.P. Dumont was very good all year along with Jason Arnott and young Alex Radulov. Theirs is a very well-coached team. On the back end, Shea Weber is very good. Their penalty killing was strong all year.
Weaknesses — As nice as the story turned out to be, they were very inconsistent this past season and that included the goaltenders, who finished strong but had some tough moments, too. At times they were very much a one-line team and Detroit may have too much for them to handle. Having David Legwand banged up is not good, either. The power play was one of the worst in the league.
Key player — Dan Ellis. He is likely going to get the call in goal, at least to start, and if they have any hope of knocking off the Red Wings they will require incredible goaltending.
SAN JOSE (2) vs. CALGARY (7)
Strengths — They are entering the playoffs as the hottest team in the NHL, absolutely brilliant since the trade deadline at the end of February, almost unbeatable. There is no shortage of skill, beginning with Joe Thornton. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov had an MVP-calibre season. Their special teams are both good. And the addition of Brian Campbell at the deadline turned around their season. He was the puck mover they lacked and has added a dimension to their game that was missing. The likes of Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo also got better after slow starts and, as a team, they figured out how to win games on home ice. This squad overcame a lot during the season and is stronger for it.
Weaknesses — If anything happens to Nabokov, look out. The major weakness, it would seem, is that they don't exactly have a rich history of overachieving in the playoffs and they will be consistently dogged by doubts. If they should get behind in a series, they will face an incredible amount of anguish and pressure. History is not an ally right now.
Key player — Joe Thornton. The big guy has to be the big guy. He has to step up and lead the way on and off the ice.
Strengths — They have an all-world leader in Jarome Iginla, who finished with 50 goals. Now, that is a heady number any time, but think about doing it in the West. As he goes, the Flames go. Daymond Langkow has been very good for them as well and Dion Phaneuf is a force on the blue line. With Miikka Kiprusoff they have a goaltender who can steal a win and is a proven playoff performer.
Weaknesses — The Flames' play was a little spotty throughout the year, including in the final month. Beyond Iginla, they don't have a lot of guys who make it happen and history has shown if you shut him down, you stop the Flames. They need to be a little tighter defensively and the special teams were not very good.
Key Player — Kristian Huselius. He has been in and out of the coach's dog house, but he has the ability to provide a secondary spark and scoring to Iginla and that would be invaluable.
Marian Gaborik is a threat to score at any time for the Wild. (Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)
MINNESOTA (3) vs. COLORADO (6)
Strengths — In Marian Gaborik they have one of the most exciting players in the game. The Wild scored more goals than you'd expect from a team that was always very good defensively. Niklas Backstrom also played well in goal down the stretch. And with Todd Fedoruk, Chris Simon and Derek Boogaard, teams don't take liberties with their skilled forwards any more and they have the toughness to survive in the wild West. Special teams are both solid.
Weaknesses — Losing defenceman Kurtis Foster with a broken leg definitely hurts. He was a very useful defender who played significant minutes. Not convinced the goaltending can be consistently good enough to prevail. The Wild gave up more goals than you would expect from a Jacques Lemaire-coached team. He also had issues with their readiness some nights.
Key player — Gaborik. He had four points in five games last spring, but has to be a threat every night.
Strengths — There is no shortage of firepower with the likes of Paul Stastny, Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg. Adding veteran Adam Foote to the defence made them much better as well. If it was 2001 they would be Stanley Cup favourites. But the late additions of Forsberg and Foote do help and there is no shortage of playoff experience on the roster. Sakic can still be a difference-maker most nights.
Weaknesses — While Jose Theodore was much-improved in goal for most of the season, the Avs still had stretches of inconsistency and their goals against wasn't great. Improved defensive play is required. They also ranked near the bottom on the power play, an area that also needs drastic improvement. While we're at it, the penalty killing wasn't great either. The key question, though, is whether Theodore can play at the level required to win in the springtime.
Key player — Ryan Smyth. He is a gritty, character player who needs to be more than a struggling third-line winger. This is the time of year when he can make a difference and must.
ANAHEIM (4) vs. DALLAS (5)
Strengths — They are the defending champions, of course, and that matters. With a defence that includes Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider and Francois Beauchemin they stand ahead of the pack. They are also rock solid in goal, with two options there. They were awesome on home ice, are tough to play against overall, and keep the goals against down. When they get Corey Perry back from injury, along with Ryan Getzlaf they have two gifted forwards and a noted checking line led by Samuel Pahlsson. For a variety of reasons, their best players are well rested and this team is peaking.
Weaknesses — There aren't many to speak of, except the Ducks for most of the season had trouble scoring goals. Now, part of that can be attributed to the absences of Niedermayer and Selanne for most of the year, but it is still a concern entering the post-season, especially with Perry on the shelf for at least one round. The power play wasn't good most of the year, either.
Key player — Pahlsson. He did a great job in a checking role last spring, shutting down some big scorers, but his line also contributed a lot offensively. The Ducks need more of the same this spring.
Strengths — The Stars continue to be a very stingy team defensively, with their penalty killing the best in the NHL for most of the season and their power play in the top 10. So all of that is good and they did improve themselves by adding Brad Richards, who is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and that kind of playoff experience is important. When on, goaltender Marty Turco is very good and proved last spring, even though they lost to Vancouver, that he can can handle the playoff pressure.
Weaknesses — The goaltending at times was inconsistent and, for whatever reason, the Stars were brutal for an extended run over the final month of the season. Incredibly, the addition of Richards didn't have the positive impact that was expected. And there will be stifling pressure on this team to at the very least get by the first round, or else you can kiss the coaching staff goodbye. If Sergei Zubov is unable to play, or play at the level expected, that will be a big factor.
Key player — Richards. Heading into the final weekend he was a ridiculous minus-27. He has to be the Richards who helped guide the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup just before the lights went out on the NHL.
2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Stanley Cup final
DET vs PIT