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Playoffs Show The West And East In Different Lights

PenaltykillConsidering the constant comparisons of East and West, and the close call often made between the two, I think this season’s playoffs second round has thrown the discussion wide open again.

1st round it’s fairly straightforward as you would expect. Both East and West have dominating teams (Detroit over Phoenix, Washington over New York Rangers), and 7 game series (Vancouver over Chicago, Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh). However, the 2nd round could not have been more different.

In the East, Tampa Bay sweep the Washington Capitals, decimating the Eastern Conference champions in devastating style, with just the right mix of ruthless offense from St Louis, LeCavalier and Downie, coupled with tight defense from Hedman and Roloson. Equally, the Bruins exorcise their demons by sweeping the Flyers, and doing it with flying colours, outscoring Philly 20-8 over 4 games, with only one reaching overtime. Both teams now have a week’s rest whilst they prepare for their Eastern Conference Final. Usually, the team that has the longer rest tends to find themselves out the zone and a little bit mentally rusty. In this instance, there’s no advantage either way since both teams are in the same boat.

However, the West has become the focal point of the season so far. The Canucks, victors in 7 games over Chicago after giving up a 3 game lead, found themselves having to battle hard once again to knock out the Nashville Predators. The Canucks eventually came good in 6 games, but not after struggling to outplay the Predators, especially as Weber and Rinne stood tall to deny attack and attack. Also noticeable is the absence of point from the Sedin brothers. Ryan Kesler is putting up the big points whilst the Swedes, who were unstoppable during the regular season, now find themselves struggling to get to grips.

The big story, however is the Wings vs Sharks series. Not necessarily for the 3-0 lead the Sharks had, which has been clawed back to 3-3 ahead of tonight’s game 7, but the hockey that has been played has been nothing short of outstanding. Every game (barring Darren Helm’s empty netter in Game 6) has been decided by one goal (Detroit outscoring San Jose 16-15 over 6 games), 2 games have been decided in overtime, and the matches have been a masterclass in quality goaltending from both Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard. Even when you split the stats a little more, you find the teams to be closer than ever. Detroit have been called for 72 penalty minutes compared to San Jose’s 78, just 6 minutes different over 6 games. San Jose have fired 216 shots at Jimmy Howard, just 9 more than Antti Niemi has faced, and both teams are finding their 3rd and 4th line players are pulling the stops out to make the difference, with Setagouchi performing well for the Sharks, and Helm putting up points for Detroit.

So where will it end? Who will be the difference maker between these almost symmetrical teams? And more importantly, how will the victor fair against the Vancouver Canucks?

I guess we’ll find out come the morning…

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