The Detroit Red Wings are sure to be one of the most popular upset picks of the first round. Sportsbooks have rightly made the Anaheim Ducks the favorites in this one, but this isn't a series that I see going the distance. Let's take a closer look at where the advantages lie.
The Wings have made the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year. That is a monumental accomplishment and Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Howard pretty much carried this team on their backs in the final four games of the regular season. These are great leaders with a lot of pride and they did everything in their power to make sure the streak didn't come to an end on their watch. The problem with all of this is, what now? This late season push certainly won't hide the flaws riddled throughout this team. Instead, many fans are chalking up the Ducks season to a fluke year due to the lockout shortened season.
This perception will only help to aid the Ducks as they enter the post-season as a favorite. Nobody is giving them much respect, but that would be a mistake. Lots of fans and media on the East coast don't see a lot of Ducks hockey, but this is a team to be taken seriously and they'll be relishing the role as psuedo-underdog when the puck drops on Tuesday night.
Names like Cleary, Filppula, Franzen, and Brunner might look good on paper, but as the saying goes, "what have you done for me lately?". The truth is no one really knows what to expect out of this forward group this post-season. Will Abdelkader continue to compliment the big line by crashing the net and creating space? Can a guy like Emmerton make fans forget about an injured Helm? Will Nyquist step up and be a breakout player? Too many questions and not enough answers.
Meanwhile, the Ducks have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL and have proven all throughout the season that offense can, and will, come from anywhere. Beyond the big guns like Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan, you have steady vets like Koivu and Selanne. Cogliano has had a mini-breakout season. Winnik will provide a quality depth role. And young guns like Palmieri and Etem are sure to chip in along the way as well. Bruce Boudreau must be drooling at all the possibilities he has when it's time to match lines at puck drop.
When Lidstrom retired, many wondered how Detroit would transition into the new era. Smith was expected to make a sizable impact this year, but he's been very underwhelming in a full-time role. After you get past Ericsson and Kronwall, things get dicey on the Detroit blueline. Kindl and Dekeyser have potential, but both are playing in sheltered roles for the time being and collectively, this group will have their hands full with the Anaheim depth.
On the flip side, the Ducks are enjoying rejuvenated seasons from vets like Beauchemin and Souray. Throw in Lydman, and you have yourselves a steadying influence on the back end. This stability has allowed the young guys like Fowler and Sbisa to continue their growth and development as NHL regulars. These names might not scare many people on paper, but they have the right mix of experience, youth, and leadership to support the transition game and protect the front of the net.
If the Wings hope to pull off this upset, they'll need Howard to play significantly better than Hiller in this series. Based on the regular season that does seem like a possibility, but Hiller is no stranger to playoff pressure. He has success under his belt and Boudreau won't hesitate to put Fasth in if Hiller does indeed falter.
It's true that Anaheim overachieved in the first half of the season, but a regression to the mean shouldn't be interpreted as a negative thing. They still finished the year with a 1016 PDO. In contrast, the Wings finished at 1001 which is a pretty good reflection of "what you see is what you get". I think the Ducks win this series and they should do it in six or less.
Prediction: Ducks -1 games for the series (+104).