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Anaheim vs. Vancouver: MOP Squad on the NHL's Second Round
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
Apr 25, 2007 - 8:33:38 PM

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Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3): Western Conference Semifinals

The Goods: Like Buffalo, Anaheim is the odds-on favourite to come out of their conference, and did little to discourage that label during their first round matchup. Winning each of the first three games against Minnesota by one goal, Anaheim closed out the Wild with a 4-1 win in game five. The Ducks did so without having any one player score three goals or more and had only three guys score as many as two. Against prescribed playoff doctrine, the Ducks also switched goaltenders in game five, swapping out Ilya Bryzgalov, who was very good in the first four games and in last year’s playoffs but was the backup during the regular season, for Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who gave way in a similar fashion to Bryzgalov last year but was very good this season and was playoff MVP back in 2003. In a good news/bad news kind of way some Ducks, like Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf, played up to or exceeded expectations, but a lot of guys have a lot of room for improvement, including star scorer Teemu Selanne, first line centre Andy McDonald, and big winger Dustin Penner. The Canucks, meanwhile, also have a lot of room for improvement after their first round series with Dallas, where they jumped out to a 3-1 series lead but nearly blew it, finally finishing off the Stars in the only first round series that went seven games. Vancouver’s star goaltender Roberto Luongo was brilliant, but Dallas’s Marty Turco was equally so, and as a result just eight different Canuck players scored a total of only 13 goals in the entire series; nine of those goals came in game one and game seven. Surprisingly, it was Canucks warhorse Trevor Linden leading the way offensively, with two goals and five points, tying him with Taylor Pyatt atop the team scoring list. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund was also very good, scoring two goals and four points, while Vancouver’s star forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison combined for just four goals and 11 points and were a collective -3. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the play of young Jannik Hansen, who was called up after injuries to forwards Matt Cooke and Ryan Kesler. In his first ever NHL action, Hansen was effective, getting one assist in six games but providing energy and making plays offensively. Vancouver’s power play against Dallas was a meagre 7.9%, 13th in the league and better than just San Jose of the teams in the second round, but it did score twice in game seven. Their penalty kill was an even 90%, good for fifth. Anaheim’s penalty kill was third at 92.6% and their power play first at 26.3%; their special teams play was a major reason they defeated Minnesota.

The Key: First round underachievers. In Vancouver, despite the fact that the Sedin twins and Naslund scored all their points in games one and seven they were able to score just enough goals to win (in the series they had 13 goals, while Dallas had 12). The Ducks, meanwhile, got two goals apiece from Getzlaf, Pronger, and defenseman Francois Beauchemin, one each from six other guys, and nothing from the rest of the lineup. Their single-goal scorers included Selanne, McDonald, Penner, Corey Perry and none from Scott Niedermayer and Chris Kunitz. If the Ducks get a similar performance from these guys, the won’t win, just like the Canucks won’t win if they get the same production from the Sedins and Naslund that they did in the first round. All season long the Canucks have depended heavily on the Sedins to carry their offense, and while Naslund had a tough season, he’s still a key cog. Between the three of them, they scored almost a third of Vancouver’s goals during the regular season. Meanwhile, Selanne, McDonald, and Kunitz had 100 goals between them, almost 40% of Anaheim’s regular season total. Factor in Niedermayer and Penner and you’ve got over 55% of the team’s regular season production that produced only three goals in the first round. Now, the fact that these two teams were able to get out of the first round without a lot of contribution from their top performers can be seen as an encouraging sign; it means other guys are stepping up and giving their teams enough to win. But in the first round, Vancouver was playing Dallas, a team with a similar inability to score, and Anaheim played Minnesota, who got three goals from Marian Gaborik but only six from everyone else. Neither team can expect to win this series if their top guys underachieve the same way they did in the first round.

Anaheim Wins If: Their special teams keep rolling. Anaheim’s special teams really were literally the difference against Minnesota; each team had seven even strength goals, but while Anaheim’s power play had five, Minnesota’s had just two. Now, Vancouver did a good job against Dallas’s power play in the first round, allowing them just four goals in 40 opportunities. But Anaheim was tied for the second best power play during the season with San Jose and their power play against Minnesota scored it’s five goals in just 19 tries, which was the second fewest number of power plays in the first round. So Minnesota did a good job staying out of the box, it just didn’t matter against such a potent group. Avoiding penalties altogether just isn’t going to happen, for either team, especially since after watching a large part of the first round (particularly game seven of Dallas-Vancouver) even I’m not really sure what a penalty is anymore. The upshot, however, is that if Anaheim’s power play continues to click at 26% and their penalty kill at 92%, they’ll win, and even if one or both drop off somewhat they’ll probably still win.

Vancouver Wins If: Despite injuries and fatigue they can get on top of the Ducks early. Last season, the Ducks swept Colorado and were waiting patiently for the Oilers, who came off one day of rest after a gruelling series with San Jose. On the basis of rest alone the Ducks were favoured, but Edmonton got a great performance from their goaltender in the opener, won 3-1, and despite getting badly outshot all series long won in five. Vancouver enters this series in a similar situation; they finished the first round on the 23rd and start the second on the 25th. Their goaltender is certainly capable of keeping them in games in which they get outshot. In fact, that’s one of Luongo’s specialties; his teams in Florida were outshot in nearly every game he played. But more than that, Vancouver badly need some energy and enthusiasm to carry over from game seven against Dallas, because the first part of this series will be crucial. The Canucks have to take one of the first two games in Anaheim or they are toast. The Ducks are just too good and too experienced and if they come out on top in the first two games at home the Canucks won’t be coming back.

Bottom Line: The fact that Anaheim lost a series in a similar situation with a tired team makes them more likely to win this one, not less. Presumably they’ve learned some lessons from that round three loss to the Oilers. Luongo is a great goaltender and any questions about his lack of playoff experience affecting his play were answered in the first round, but injuries are starting to mount for Vancouver, as they might be missing defensemen Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa in game one. That’s not a good sign for a team that needs a quick start if they’re going to win. Anaheim in five.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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