Good goaltending, good health and a little positive momentum are three key ingredients for a National Hockey League team to have a long playoff run. The Vancouver Canucks
, the top seed in the Western Conference, possess all those ingredients and more.
Note: Numbers in parenthesis are odds to win the Western Conference title courtesy of Bookmaker.com.
Vancouver (+170) concluded the regular campaign by capturing seven of its last nine games to solidify the No.1 seed in the Western Conference with 117 points. That’s a whopping 12 points ahead of the second-seeded San Jose Sharks and 10 points more than a Washington Capitals squad that is seeded first in the Eastern Conference.
As a result, the Canucks will enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. That should be a fairly sizeable advantage, since Vancouver had the league’s best home record during the regular season at 27-9-1-4.
Playing on enemy ice won’t be a problem either, as the Canucks own a league-leading 27-10-3-1 ledger away from home.
The Canucks also lead the league in several other categories, including offense (3.1 GPG), defense (2.2 GPG) and power play success (24.3 percent). They rank third on the penalty kill with an 85.6 percent success rate.
Roberto Luongo provides the strong goaltending that Vancouver will need to make a long playoff run. The 32-year-old Montreal native is a sizzling 38-15-7 with a miniscule 2.11 GAA and a sparkling .928 save percentage. Luongo also has four shutouts.
Vancouver’s reward for all of this regular season success will be a meeting with the No. 8 seed. However, in this case, that means a matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (+800).
Chicago made the postseason despite dropping five of its last nine outings, including Sunday’s 4-3 home loss against Detroit. A victory in that contest would have eliminated the Dallas Stars. Instead, the Hawks had to watch the Stars eliminate themselves during Sunday night’s 4-3 loss at Minnesota.
Though the Blackhawks lost quite a few offensive pieces from last year’s Cup team, they still rank fourth offensively by averaging 3.1 goals per game. They are also fourth on the power play with a 23.1 percent success rate.
Defensively, Chicago ranks 12th by allowing 2.7 goals per game. Though that ranking is certainly poorer than last season, the club’s new rookie goaltender cannot be faulted. First-season netminder Corey Crawford is 33-18-6 with a 2.30 GAA, a .917 save percentage and four shutouts.
The second-seeded San Jose Sharks (+225) enter postseason play by going 9-3 in their last 12 regular season contests. Ironically, the Sharks boost former Chicago netminder Antti Niemi between the pipes. Niemi has followed his stellar rookie campaign with a stellar sophomore season.
Niemi is 35-18-6 with a 2.38 GAA, a .920 save percentage and six shutouts. The 27-year-old workhorse started 31 of San Jose’s last 32 regular season contests.
The seventh-seeded Los Angeles Kings (+2200) dropped four of their last six games and scored one goal or less in all four of the setbacks. That’s not unusual for the Kings, as they rank a poor 25th offensively by averaging 2.5 goals per game.
The third-seeded Detroit Red Wings (+295) enter the playoffs by losing seven of their last 11 endeavors. Most of the late-season slide can be attributed to shaky defense and unsettled goaltending.
The Red Wings yielded three goals or more in eight of those 11 outings, including 10 markers in one miserable game against the St. Louis Blues. No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard has a bloated 2.79 GAA, which is the highest of any netminder participating in the 2011 playoffs.
Phoenix (+1100), seeded sixth, dropped four of its last six games. However, that came on the heels of a streak that saw the squad win seven of eight.
Nevertheless, a hot goalie can take the Coyotes past the third-seeded Red Wings. And that’s just what the Coyotes posses in Ilya Bryzgalov. The 30-year-old netminder is 36-20-10 with a 2.48 GAA, a sparkling .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Going 10-3 to close out the season makes the Anaheim Ducks (+1100) a dangerous team heading into postseason play. Ray Emery and Dan Ellis have been sharing goaltending duties since No. 1 netminder Jonas Hiller went down with vertigo on Feb. 13. The Don Best Sports injury report list Hiller as “questionable” for Game 1 of Anaheim’s series against Nashville (+1100).
The Predators also come in hot, winning nine of their last 12 regular season outings. Unlike Anaheim, the Preds don’t have any goaltending questions.
Pekka Rinne has made sure of that by allowing two goals or less in six of his last 10 starts. The 6-foot-4 netminder is 33-22-0 with a tiny 2.21 GAA and a league-leading .930 save percentage. He also has six shutouts.
Western Conference series prices (courtesy of Sports Club)
(1) Vancouver (-215), (8) Chicago (+185)
(2) San Jose (-250), (7) Los Angeles (+210)
(3) Detroit (-200), (6) Phoenix (+170)
(4) Anaheim (-145), (5) Nashville (+125)