The Detroit Red Wings won Game 7 on the road in Phoenix to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals against the West’s top seeded San Jose Sharks. The Red Wings have been to two straight Stanley Cup Finals and are playoff beasts, while the Sharks are eying their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2004. Here is my breakdown of the series.
San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been dominant the past few playoff games. Since giving up 7 goals in the first two games against Colorado, he allowed only 4 in the last 4 games, and one of those was scored accidentally by his own player. Nabokov posted a 2.43 Goals Against Average during the regular season, and has dropped that to 1.76 in the postseason, good for 2nd place in the playoffs so far. Detroit counters with Jimmy Howard, who has been erratic so far this series. A top 5 goalie in GAA during the regular season, he ranks 8th in postseason. This was also his first playoff series, so the experience edge goes to Nabokov. Howard was great in the regular season though and is a Calder Trophy finalist for the league’s top rookie. I have to give the slight edge to San Jose here.
This is one category where Detroit’s stars have far outperformed the stars of the Sharks. Henrik Zetterberg, a 2008 playoff MVP, has lead the way 6 goals and 11 points, 2nd most in the postseason. Pavel Datsyuk has added 8 points, while Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula have added 7 points each. Meanwhile, San Jose’s big 3 of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatly, and Patrick Marleau have combined to score one goal. The Sharks have gotten offense from Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski (8 points each), but it’s a bad omen for a team that has been no stranger to playoff failures. These stars will need to step up big time in this series. San Jose’s offense was more consistent in the regular season, but Detroit has been better so far in the playoffs. The Wings have also been slightly better on power play, converting 23.5% to San Jose’s 19.2%. Based on the play of the stars, I’ll give the edge to the Wings.
The Sharks only allowed 2 power play goals against the Colorado Avalanche, a 13.3% rate. The Red Wings yielded an 18.2% conversion, so both teams have been among the better teams at stopping the man advantage in the playoffs. Detroit has an edge in shots allowed per game thus far in the playoffs, 36.7 to 40.8. But Detroit has performed especially well in 4 games against San Jose in the regular season, killing all 10 penalties they faced while winning 3 games and losing once in overtime. I would call the defense in the series even.
The Red Wings entered the playoffs as one of the leagues hottest teams, and have been to two straight Cup Finals. They are seasoned and battled tested, and can win on the road as well, as they took 3 games in Phoenix including the clincher. That seems to negate San Jose’s home ice advantage. One huge factor going for San Jose is penalties. They allowed only 15 power play chances to Colorado, compared with the 33 Detroit allowed Phoenix. While their penalty killing units were pretty comparable, the more opportunities will still benefit San Jose. Also, you have to think their stars will perform better this time around, otherwise it could be major changes for the Sharks next year. Still, playoffs is all about goaltending, and I have to give the slight edge to San Jose. Sharks in 7 games.