For the Western Conference Playoffs, Columbus Blue Jackets radio color analyst Bill Davidge and play-by-play analyst George Matthews will breakdown the keys to each series, the players to watch and make a selection of who they believe will take one step closer raising Lord Stanley's Cup.
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Calgary - Bill Davidge
Keys to the series: Detroit's puck possession ... Detroit's explosive offense with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk ... Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Brett Lebda; puck moving defenseman ... Dominik Hasek better be good.
Players to Watch:
For Detroit, Zetterburg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Hasek. All need to play well for Detroit to advance, especially the two young forwards who don't have a choice this post season, they must step up and they must score. Lidstrom just has to play steady as usual and Hasek must stay healthy and show stamina beginning in round one.
For Calgary, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff. Phaneuf must anchor the Flames defense and will have his hands full with top line for Detroit with Datysuk and Zetterberg. Kipprusoff may have to stand on his head if Detroit gets a lot of chances, but no matter what he will have to play extremely well for Calgary to have a chance in this series.
Prediction: Detroit in 6 games.
No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Minnesota - George Matthews
Keys to the series: Can the Ducks ninth rated offense (goals for - GF) beat out Minnesota's defensive style, where they ranked first in the NHL in goals-against average for the regular season.
Players to watch:
For Anaheim, Teemu Selanne is coming off a second season of terrific hockey and has 47 points in 65 career playoff games. Andy McDonald plays on the same line with Selanne and must produce with him in this series. Dustin Penner is a young kid and has had a strong season working with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, look for him in this series. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on defense must play solid - Pronger was third in playoff scoring last season with Edmonton and Niedermayer had a career season in points this year.
For Minnesota, Niklas Backstrom in his first NHL season led the league in goals-against average, 1.97 and save percentage, .929, and has fit well into Jacques Lemaire's system. Marian Gaborik had 24 goals in the second half of the season, tops in the NHL. Pavol Demitra has terrific chemistry with Gaborik and will have to help carry the offensive load for the Wild. Brian Rolston has not been a key playoff player in the past, but had an outstanding year, leading the Wild with 31 goals.
Prediction: Anaheim in 6 games.
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Dallas - George Matthews
Keys to the series: Goaltending, Roberto Luongo for the Canucks and Marty Turco for the Stars.
Players to watch:
For Vancouver, Luongo has neven been to the playoffs, so he has a lot to prove, but had an MVP season. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, need to play well. Daniel had a career year and Henrik was fourth in the NHL in assists with 71. Kevin Bieksa will be a key on defense; he has no playoff history but led the Vancouver defenseman in points.
For Dallas, Turco had another good season, but has had poor playoffs in the past. Mike Modano has 131 career playoff points in 149 games played, his glory days are past but can still be a game breaker. Brenden Morrow is at the peak of his career and well rested after coming back from a wrist injury. Sergei Zubov is a good post season player and has over 100 playoff points to his credit.
Prediction: Vancouver in 6 games.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San Jose - Bill Davidge
Keys to the series: It will boil down to goaltending, Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov for the Sharks and Chris Mason and Tomas Vokoun for the Predators ... San Jose's balanced attack ... Nashville's young defense.
Players to watch:
For Nashville, Paul Kariya will have to lead the offensive attack. Peter Forsberg has to be a star, he was brought to Nashville to help them go deep into the playoffs and must show up in a big way for this team to win.
For San Jose, Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton and their ability to create offensive chances for thier team on the power play or 5-on-5 situations. Toskala and Nabokov need to play well for San Jose to win.
Prediction: San Jose in 6 games.
For more information on each series, go to www.nhl.com