Breaking down the Western Conference playoff matchups
No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 8 Minnesota
This series will not last long. Chicago, along with the Penguins, has simply dominated the league this season and is well balanced. Led by stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa — along with a host of talented players — the Blackhawks seem destined to meet the Penguins in what could be a classic Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has struggled down the stretch and barely reached the postseason. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have been good in their first season with the Wild, but there is absolutely no reason to think Minnesota can hang around with the mighty Blackhawks.
Offense – Blackhawks
Defense – Blackhawks
Power play – Blackhawks
Penalty kill – Blackhawks
Goaltending – Blackhawks
Series winner: Blackhawks in 4
No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Detroit
Anaheim has been a consistent team this season, largely playing in the Blackhawks' shadow. Few teams can match Anaheim's size and skill at forward, as Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne give the Ducks plenty of offense. Team defense could be an issue.
The Red Wings aren't really the Red Wings anymore, as their third and fourth lines — along with their blue line — are filled with ordinary players, which is quite a change from past seasons. Still, Jimmy Howard has been strong in net, and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are still terrific. Not a great matchup for Anaheim.
Offense – Anaheim
Defense – Detroit
Power play – Anaheim
Penalty kill – Detroit
Goaltending – Detroit
Series winner: Red Wings in 7
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 San Jose
This series showcases two talented, off-the-radar Western Conference teams. Vancouver is two years removed from losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at home and, thanks to a strong goaltending tandem and an abundance of forward skill, remains capable of making a run through the Western Conference.
San Jose started the season brilliantly, went cold for a month, and then rebounded to claim a playoff spot. Figuring out the Sharks isn't easy, but history says they will struggle in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course, Vancouver's playoff history isn't pretty, either.
Offense – Vancouver
Defense – Anaheim
Power play – Anaheim
Penalty kill – Vancouver
Goaltending - Vancouver
Series winner: Canucks in 6
No. 4 Los Angeles vs. No. 5 St. Louis
What a series. On paper, this should mark the NHL's finest first-round draw. Los Angeles is the defending Stanley Cup champion and, following its 16-3 romp to the Stanley Cup last season, remains a feared opponent. Goaltender Jonathan Quick has returned to form following a poor start as the Kings seek another title.
St. Louis has been energized during the past month and is a fast, physical team that rarely plays poor defensively because of the presence of head coach Ken Hitchcock. Short on household names, the Blues enter the playoffs red hot and are a stifling defensive team.
Offense – Kings
Defense – Blues
Power play – Kings
Penalty kill – Blues
Goaltending – Kings
Series winner: Kings in 7