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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Playoff Preview: Wild vs Avalanche

With Sunday's win over Minnesota, the Avalanche guaranteed themselves at least one more trip back to the State of Hockey. Even though this series includes a team coached by Jacques Lemaire, I expect it to be more high-scoring than some may think.

How the Wild can win:

The Wild is a team built on team speed and the neutral zone trap. If the Wild gets a lead, it shuts down the neutral zone and waits for teams to try and force their way through, as opposed to dumping the puck deep into the Wild's zone. The key for the Wild will be to make the Avs play an impatient game that tries to force offense when it isn't there. Another key for Minnesota will be to take advantage of Colorado's so-so defense and questionable goaltending. Additionally, Mikko Koivu will be a hugely important component to any Wild series victory. Expect to see Koivu centering the team's checking line that will face the Forsberg-Hejduk-Stastny power line. If Koivu's line can do a good job shutting down the Avs' big guns, the Wild's chances improve dramatically.

How the Avalanche can win:

The Avalanche are going to want to make this series high-scoring. After Marian Gaborik's line, the Wild have little, if any, scoring. A bunch of back-and-forth 4-3, 5-4 games will benefit Colorado greatly. Also, the Wild aren't an overly big squad, so I expect the Avalanche to try and control the play along the boards and cycle the puck down low. The Wild defense will be without stalwart Nick Schultz, and will be relying heavily on the impressive Brent Burns to play upwards of 25 minutes per game. If the Avs can wear Burns down, the Wild's defensive depth is nothing to write home about.

Who will win this series:

The Wild hold the edge in goaltending with Niklas Backstrom, however, the Avalanche forwards are a lot better than Minnesota's. As well, Colorado's defensive corps has improved with the additions of Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei, while Minnesota's defense lacks the depth to account for Schultz's injury. Thus, the Avalanche are, in this writer's opinion, the better team. Oh ya, and they have Peter Forsberg.

Prediction: Avalanche in 6

For Illegal Curve, I'm Richard Pollock.

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