Second-round breakdown: Mighty Ducks vs. Avalanche
After dispatching the (slightly) favored Calgary Flames in a seventh game Wednesday night, the Mighty Ducks will continue to be the sexy pick in the Western Conference.
And with good reason.
Teemu Selanne, who scored the game winner in Game 7, continues to be one of the feel-good stories of this NHL season, and his leadership was invaluable as the Ducks overcame a 3-2 series deficit against the Flames. Scott Niedermayer was the best player on the ice for either team throughout the series, and he will give the Avalanche fits in the coming days.
As for the Avalanche, well, it's hard to know whether they were that good in stunning No. 2 seed Dallas in five games or whether the Stars were so lame. A little of both, probably. Still, the comeback story of this early playoff year belongs to Avs netminder Jose Theodore, who scored a win few thought was possible in the battle against Marty Turco.
Why Colorado will win: Did we mention the upset bandwagon? Well, let's start with Theodore, who is where this series will begin and end.
The numbers don't suggest Theodore has completely regained the form that saw him win a Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002. His 2.64 goals-against average and .910 save percentage are acceptable. But what was impressive about Theodore's performance, and what bodes well for the Avalanche, is that when it mattered in three overtime games, Theodore was there. In Game 5, he stopped 50 shots, 11 in overtime, to clinch the series.
Ducks neophyte starter Ilya Bryzgalov has shown he isn't intimidated by more veteran goaltending foes, as he is coming off a victory over Vezina Trophy candidate Miikka Kiprusoff. But Theodore has the potential to get into the heads of the Ducks' shooters if he gets on a puck-stopping rainbow. Does he have the potential to go completely sideways? Sure. He has shown that more often than not this season. But there is much to prove for the Montreal native, and frankly, there's little pressure now that the Avs have won a series.
He'll have help, of course, especially in the form of veterans Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, both of whom are multiple Cup winners, not to mention gold-medal winners. Both are playing at the top of their game right now. They anchor an Avalanche team that is deceptively deep. The team's top line of Sakic, Andrew Brunette and Milan Hejduk will give the Ducks an offensive look they didn't see from a tepid Calgary offense. And there is depth in the form of Alex Tanguay and rookie Wojtek Wolski, who was named the OHL's MVP this season.
The Avs also will be buoyed by the return of solid two-way veteran Steve Konowalchuk, who missed most of the regular season with tendon damage in his wrist. His presence on the penalty kill and in the dressing room will be invaluable. If there are questions about the Avs' grit, it was more than answered in the first round with the play of Ian Laperriere, Jim Dowd and defenseman Brett Clark.
Why Anaheim will lose: It is one thing for an untested goaltender to steal a playoff series when he is essentially untested, as was the case for Bryzgalov in the final two games against Calgary. It is quite another to face down a lineup that includes players like Sakic, Brunette, Hejduk and Tanguay, who combined for 25 points in the first round.
True, Bryzgalov turned aside a remarkable 90 of 93 shots he faced, but now he must start from scratch against a team that will bring a lot more offense. Anaheim ranked fifth on the penalty kill in the first round (Colorado was sixth), but the Flames' power play is desert to ocean compared with that of the Avs. Because the Avs possess more offensive weaponry, the risk of taking penalties goes up markedly for the Ducks.
On the other side of the special teams ledger, the Ducks were 13th with the man advantage in the first round. In a series that figures to see significantly more offensive fireworks, Anaheim will need to improve significantly because to lose the special teams battle is to lose the war.
Then, there's the youth factor. Against Calgary, rookies Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz combined for three goals and were a minus-9. Throw in youngster Joffrey Lupul, who had only one goal, and that's a big part of the Ducks' forward contingent that contributed little.
As the playoffs go on, fatigue is often a factor for young players, a factor that will put even more pressure on the Ducks' big duo of Selanne and Andy McDonald. Only three Ducks players scored two or more goals in the first round, and two of them were defensemen -- Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin. That won't be enough against an Avs team chock-full of experience and facing little in the way of pressure.
Prediction: Colorado in six.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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