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March 24, 2019
First Round Preview: Campbell Conference
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
NASHVILLE PREDATORS (8) vs DETROIT RED WINGS (1)
Key Matchup: The Predators have to find a way to shut down the dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. More often than not, the responsibility will fall to Dan Hamhuis and Greg Zanon.
This will also be the best coaching matchup of the first round. Mike Babcock is tops, and Barry Trotz should have a monument built in his honor for what he did this year in Nashville. Give him a little more time, and I bet he'll even catch Moose and Squirrel.
Players to Watch: While Datsyuk and Zetterberg will grab the headlines, two grinders could hold the key to Detroit's success. Johan Franzen was the Wings' leading scorer in the season series, bagging six goals and eight points in eight games. He's one of the few Wings built for playoff hockey.
One of the others is Tomas Holmstrom, who's always a disruptive factor in front of the cage. Assuming he's healthy, he'll make life miserable for Dan Ellis. Holmstrom will be trying to play through a groin strain. He even took a cortisone shot the other day. I've never had a cortisone shot, but if it tastes anything like gin, the line forms behind me.
Martin Erat and Alexander Radulov each had four goals against Detroit in the regular season, but I find it hard to believe either one will be an elite playoff performer. Then again, Radulov did come out like a fiend against the Sharks last year. Maybe he's got a little something special for the Wings.
Prediction: This series will actually be a lot closer than people think. Over the final 42 games, Detroit only amassed five more points than Nashville. The Wings won the season series, but just barely. They needed a shootout win and a 1-0 overtime victory to take the series 5-3-0. And of the eight games, five were decided by a single goal.
Nashville definitely has the potential to pull off the upset. The Red Wings are ripe for the picking. The Predators' defense, featuring the likes of Hamhuis, Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Suter, and Shea Weber, could give Detroit fits. I'm gonna love watching Weber run some filthy Wings through the boards. In Dan Ellis, the Preds also have a potential playoff folk hero. I could see him standing on his head and stealing a few games, if not the series. He'll certainly outplay his Detroit counterpart. But sadly, I don't think they'll have enough scoring to seal the deal.
Wings in five. (Sunshine) Detroit!
Key Matchup: Torrey Mitchell, Patrick Rissmiller, and Mike Grier have become the best checking line in hockey. Ron Wilson will match them against Jarome Iginla, Daymond Lankgow, and Alex Tanguay whenever possible, forcing the line of Matthew Lombardi, Owen Nolan, and Kristian Huselius to carry the Calgary offense. That's a big advantage for the Sharks.
Players to Watch: Outside of Iginla, I just don't see anyone else scoring goals for the Flames. Nolan had three in four games against his former team this season, but his best days are solid gone.
Joe Thornton has to be the man. His playoff failures have been well documented on the pages of LCS, even earning him the delightful nickname Snow Thornton since he disappears every spring. This is going to be a brutal series. Thornton has to step up and lead his team. If he lets the Sharks lose in the first round, it's over for Jumbo Joe.
The pressure will also be on Brian Campbell. He's been right at home in San Jose, ringing up three goals and 19 points in 20 games. He's supposed to be the missing piece of their championship puzzle. I have my doubts. Did you see him crying after the trade? Clay Aiken thought it was gay.
Prediction: Aw, this will be the best series of the first round. El Scorcho is my dark horse pick. I just love the Big Three of Iginla, Phaneuf, and Kiprusoff. Calgary took the season series 3-1-0, earning two overtime wins courtesy of Iginla goals. And Mike Keenan knows how to get the most out of a team come playoff time. The only problem is I'm still not sure this is a complete Keenan team. Guys like Tanguay and Huselius simply don't fit.
As soon as last season ended, I picked the Sharks to win the Cup this year. But then they signed Jeremy Roenick and changed their uniforms to those dreadful, dreadful monstrosities. Those are two serious taints. But as much as I'll be rooting for the Flames, I think the Fish will prevail.
San Jose in seven.
Key Matchup: When the two clubs met in the season finale, the line of Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Paul Stastny riddled the Wild for two goals and five assists. Jacques Lemaire tried a bunch of different options, and none of them worked. Even if the Wild figure out a way to slow down Forsberg, Colorado's second line of Joe Sakic, Andrew Burnette, and Wojtek Wolski can do serious damage.
But the most entertaining matchup of the series could be Marian Gaborik against Ian Laperriere. The two came to blows at the end of the last game. Or at least Laperriere was throwing blows. It was a very generous fighting major for Gaborik. But expect the Boogeyman to pay Laperriere a visit early in the series. Good times.
Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are two other youngsters that need to step up. Gaborik should be jacked for the series, but he can't do it alone.
Sakic and Forsberg are givens. But it's time for the next generation of Avalanche stars, like Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, to emerge.
And Ryan Smyth has to do something, anything. He's been relegated to a third line of late, skating with Tyler Arnason and David Jones. Smyth's been a waste of a perfectly good mullet. Oh, and I loved Jones' tambourine work on "Daydream Believer."
Prediction: This will be an extremely tight series. Five of their eight regular-season contests were decided by one goal, with the Wild prevailing 5-2-1. It's a coin flip.
Minnesota is a solid squad from top to bottom. Gaborik is a lethal game-breaker. The other forwards are a nice mix, boasting veteran scorers Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, skilled youngsters like Bouchard and Koivu, and plenty of grit and toughness with the likes of Stephane Veilleux, Aaron Voros, Todd Fedoruk, Chris Simon, and Derek Boogaard. The defense, led by Burns and Kim Johnsson, is big and mobile. And Niklas Backstrom is a legit No 1.
Anyone who's read LCS for any amount of time should know by now that I grew up a Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche fan, so seeing Sakic and Forsberg together again is a thick slice of heaven. While I'll be cheering for the men with feet on their shoulders, I'm not sure the reunion tour will have enough in the tank. And I'm still not sold on Jose Theodore. Besides, the Wild are destined to meet Anaheim again.
Minnesota in... aw, screw that! I want Colorado and Detroit in the second round! Avs in seven! Yeehaw! Deal with it.
Key Matchup: Chris Pronger versus Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards? Really? This is gonna get ugly. But Pronger will meet his match in Brendan Morrow. That'll be good stuff.
Another quality matchup might be Todd Bertuzzi versus Marty Turco, as Big Bert will be around the cage all series long. Watch your neck, Marty.
Players to Watch: If the Stars have any shot, and they really don't, Steve Ott will need to run amok. But even if he does, the Ducks have the firepower to pummel him senseless.
Bertuzzi stole a whole bunch of money this season, but it's never too late to mend. He needs to be a physical presence up front, punishing the Dallas defense and creating traffic in front of Turco. And with Corey Perry still out, it wouldn't hurt if Bertuzzi could chip in a goal or two.
Prediction: This will be a physical series, but I can't see any way the Stars win. You can't build your team around Ribeiro and Richards and expect to beat the Water Fowl. It's not gonna happen.
Ducks in five.
And hey, if those picks come true, not only would we get filthy Detroit versus Colorado in round two, we'd also end up with Anaheim vs. San Jose. You know what that means, right? Teemu vs. Cheechoo. Somewhere, Dave Dameshek is singing...