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ANAHEIM DUCKS VERSUS DALLAS STARS
This is the third time in four years that the Anaheim Ducks have made the playoffs and the second in a row that they’ve captured their division, but they haven’t won a playoff series over that span. The stage seems set for that to change.
Although this was one of the better campaigns the duo has ever had, they’ve been stars for years. The problem Anaheim had in the past was that they didn’t have the depth to back them up. That wasn’t the case in 2013-14. The Ducks are going into this series with 10 different players that recorded at least 10 goals and four that surpassed the 20-goal mark.
That’s led to them being the best offense team of the season with an average of 3.21 goals per game. Of course, the Dallas Stars are no slouch in that regard either as they finished 10th with an average of 2.82 goals.
Dallas is hoping that its young duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn can match up against Anaheim’s big two. That’s not an entirely unreasonable gamble, given that Seguin and Benn were only a step behind their Ducks counterparts in the regular season. The deeper into the Stars roster you get though, the harder it is to see them stacking up.
The X-Factor in this series is Teemu Selanne, who has averaged just 14:07 minutes per game. Even at the age of 43, Selanne showed he’s still capable of carrying a team when given the chance while playing for Finland in the 2014 Winter Games. In his last playoff run, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him step up despite a quiet regular season.
After losing to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in 2013, the Anaheim Ducks should only need five games to advance this time around.
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Daniel Winnik-Nick Bonino-Saku Koivu
Jakob Silfverberg-Andrew Cogliano-Teemu Selanne
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Kyle Palmieri
Stephane Robidas-Francois Beauchemin
Ben Lovejoy-Hampus Lindholm
Sami Vatanen-Bryan Allen
Corey Perry had four goals and seven points in his last six games. He ranked second in the league with 43 goals this season.
Jonas Hiller allowed 11 goals in his last three games. He also has a 3.01 GAA and .889 save percentage in 11 starts since the Olympics.
Sheld Souray missed the 2013-14 campaign with a wrist injury. Defenseman Mark Fistric is dealing with a lower-body injury while forward Tim Jackman isn't likely to participate in the first round due to a broken hand.
The Ducks ranked second in the league with a 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of 1.39. That was fortunate for them because they were just 22nd with the man advantage and 13th when it came to killing penalties.
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel-Ryan Garbutt-Cody Eakin
Vernon Fiddler-Shawn Horcoff-Colton Sceviour
Erik Cole-Dustin Jeffrey-Alex Chiasson
Trevor Daley-Alex Goligoski
Brenden Dillon-Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth-Sergei Gonchar
Defenseman Trevor Daley scored two goals and five assists in seven games in April. He finished the 2013-14 campaign with nine goals and 25 points in 67 games.
Valeri Nichushkin has just two assists in his last nine games. The rookie forward had 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games in 2013-14.
Rich Peverley (heart surgery) started skating in March and was firing shots on goaltenders on Sunday. He would like to return before the Stars' campaign is over, but that's far from a guaranteed.
Forward Ray Whitney (lower body) and Defenseman Brenden Dillon (lower body) are day-to-day.
The Dallas Stars failed to make the playoffs for five straight seasons from 2008-09 through 2012-13, which represents the franchise's longest drought since they debut in 1967-68 as the Minnesota North Stars.
LOS ANGELES KING VERSUS SAN JOSE SHARKS
This is the third time in four years that the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks are meeting in the playoffs. Both have taken a series, with the Sharks winning in six in 2011 and the Kings coming ahead in seven in 2013. Last year’s series was particularly entertaining with five of the seven contests being decided by just one goal.
Jonathan Quick was the difference in 2013 and the Kings need that to be the case again this year. He was the sole winner of the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the goaltender(s) that play in at least 25 games with the team that allows the fewest goals in the regular season, and he’s got a reputation for elevating his game in the playoffs.
As usual, the San Jose Sharks will be countering with a strong offense, but the dynamics of it are a bit different this time around. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were dominant, per the norm, but Joe Pavelski broke out with 41 goals and 79 points. Then there’s rookie Tomas Hertl, who was one of the most explosive players early this season, but his campaign got derailed because of a knee injury that required surgery.
He’s back now and probably wouldn’t mind some poetic justice, given that it was Kings captain Dustin Brown that sidelined him with a knee-on-knee hit.
The Kings aren’t devoid of guys that can answer though. Anze Kopitar had another great year with 29 goals and 70 points in 82 games. Meanwhile, Marian Gaborik has provided them with a boost by scoring five goals and 16 points in 19 contests since being acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
At the same time, Brown and Mike Richards had rough campaigns and the Kings look a bit thin when they’re not at their best. The Kings’ recent track record of playoff success trumps the Sharks, but I think San Jose’s strong top-six will help them best Los Angeles in seven games this time around.
Brent Burns-Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton
Martin Havlat-Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture
Tommy Wingels-James Sheppard-Tomas Hertl
Tyler Kennedy-Andrew Desjardins-Bracken Kearns
Dan Boyle-Matt Irwin
Brad Stuart-Justin Braun
Jason Demers-Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Joe Pavelski had seven goals and 12 points in his last nine regular season games. That helped him reach and surpass the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Antti Niemi allowed at least three goals in four of his last seven contests. He had a 2.39 GAA and .913 save percentage in 64 starts this season.
Matt Nieto has temporarily been assigned to the ECHL so that he can be close to his mother, who is scheduled to have cancer-related surgery. When he's ready to return, he might play on the second line with Marleau and Couture.
Defenseman Scott Hannan (upper body) as well as forwards Adam Burish (hand), and Raffi Torres (knee) are questionable for the series opener.
The Sharks have the second longest active postseason appearance streak at 10 seasons. Of those with an active streak of at least five seasons, San Jose is the only team that hasn't won the Stanley Cup during the run.
Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Marian Gaborik
Jeff Carter-Mike Richards-Jordan Nolan
Tanner Pearson-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford-Trevor Lewis-Tyler Toffoli
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Alec Martinez-Willie Mitchell
Slava Voynov-Robyn Regehr
Marian Gaborik has three goals and 12 points in his last 10 contests. He never really jelled with the Columbus Blue Jackets, in part due to injuries, but he certainly has found his groove with the Kings.
Mike Richards is taking a nine-game point drought into the playoffs. He had 11 goals and 41 points in 82 games this season.
The Kings won their first Jennings Trophy this season. Two of the last three winners reached the Stanley Cup Final and last year's winner, Chicago, won it all.
Los Angeles is relatively healthy, but they might have one glaring omission as Drew Doughty (upper body) missed the final four games of the regular season.
With a power-play success rate of just 15.1%, the Kings are the worst team with the man advantage among those that advanced to the postseason. They were much more respectable when it came to killing penalties as they ranked 11th in the league.
ST. LOUIS BLUES VERSUS CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
It wasn’t that long ago the St. Louis Blues looked like a serious Stanley Cup contender. They had a balanced offense, arguably the strongest defense in the league, and then they added star goaltender Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres.
What a difference a couple weeks can make. The Blues limped into the playoffs, dropping their last six games and scoring just five goals in that span. St. Louis didn’t find the back of the net in the last 143:59 minutes of its regular season.
That being said, the Blues core of forwards has been absolutely decimated recently with Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, and Vladimir Tarasenko all ending up on the sidelines. They should have at least some of those guys back in time for Game 1. They need at least a few of them back or there’s no way they will be able to stand up to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks look just as good as the team that won it all last year. They were missing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as the season winded down, but both will be back for the playoff opener.
If the Blues are mostly healthy in time for Game 1, then this could be a battle of the titans. The winner of this one will be a strong contender to go all the way.
There’s no guarantee that’s what we’ll get though and given that the Blackhawks don’t have nearly as many question marks and are loaded with proven winners, I’m picking them to win in six.
Please note that the Blues were missing a huge chunk of their scoring forwards in the final days of the regular season. It's not clear who will or won't be available, making it difficult to project the Blues lines. Rather than guess at who will be available, we created these lines as if everyone but Vladimir Tarasenko (hand surgery) was healthy:
Alexander Steen -T.J. Oshie-David Backes
Patrik Berglund-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka
Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Steve Ott
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak
Oh, uh...Jaden Schwartz? He has two goals and three points in his last eight games...with a plus-one rating he tied the Blues' high for April.
The St. Louis Blues. Or more specifically, T.J. Oshie, who was on a seven-game point drought before suffering an upper-body injury.
St. Louis had the second best penalty kill in the league with an 85.7% success rate. They also allowed the third least shots on goal with an average of 26.4 per game.
The Blues had trouble getting going early in games, outscoring their opposition 68-63 in the first period compared to 171-125 for the remainder of the contest.
With 111 points, this was the second best season in the St. Louis Blues' history. In 1999-00, they recorded 114 points in the regular season, but ended up losing in the first round.
Marian Hossa-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp
Patrick Kane-Michal Handzus-Kris Versteeg
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Brandon Saad
Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Jeremy Morin scored four goals and six points in six April games. That run accounts for more than half of his points this season.
Kris Versteeg registered two assists in his final nine contests of the 2013-14 campaign. He had 10 goals and 29 points in 63 games since the Chicago Blackhawks acquired him from the Florida Panthers.
Chicago finished second in the league with an average of 3.18 goals per game.
When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, they had a .704 winning percentage in one-goal games during the shortened season. They had just a .425 winning percentage in 2013-14 in contests that were decided by just one marker.
Chicago has won the Stanley Cup in two of its previous four playoff runs, but they lost in the first round the other two times.
COLORADO AVALANCHE VERSUS MINNESOTA WILD
The Colorado Avalanche looked like they were going nowhere fast under former Avalanche coach Joe Sacco. That wasn’t entirely his fault, but swapping him out for Patrick Roy seemed to make a world of difference.
The team that just won the Central Division isn’t fundamentally different from the one that went 16-25-7 in the shortened campaign, but guys seemed to respond a lot better to the Hall of Famer. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was the best example of that as he flourished under the mentoring of Roy and goalie coach Francois Allaire.
Varlamov had a 2.41 GAA and .927 save percentage in 63 games while facing a staggering 2,013 shots this season – far more than any other goaltender. In some ways, this series might actually be easy for him by comparison as Minnesota ranked 24th in the league with 2.43 goals per game and got less shots on net than every team but Buffalo.
That being said, this series will be a big test for the Avalanche. The Wild have some superb top-end talent like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter. If the enigma that is Ilya Bryzgalov can continue to shine – as he has been since the Minnesota Wild acquired him in March – then they could unravel the relatively inexperienced Avalanche.
That’s especially true given that Colorado has been hit with the injury bug and doesn’t have top forward Matt Duchene (knee).
It’s worth adding that there is some pressure on Minnesota, even though they are coming into this with the significantly inferior record. Expectations in Minnesota jumped when they signed Suter and Parise, but they lost in the first round last season and another quick exit might not sit well with a franchise that’s trying to position itself as a series Stanley Cup contender.
Regardless, Minnesota’s anemic offense coupled with their tenuous goaltending situation, makes me feel comfortable picking Colorado to advance in six games.
Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon
Jamie McGinn-Ryan O'Reilly-P. A. Parenteau
Patrick Bordeleau-Maxime Talbot-Marc-Andre Cliche
David Van der Gulik-Paul Carey-Brad Malone
Erik Johnson-Jan Hejda
Nick Holden-Andre Benoit
Ryan Wilson-Nate Guenin
Paul Stastny finished the 2013-14 campaign with five goals and seven assists in 11 contests. That allowed him to reach the 25-goal and 60-point marks this season.
Gabriel Landeskog had two assists in his last seven games in 2013-14. He still set new career-highs this season with 26 goals and 65 points in 81 contests.
Alex Tanguay (hip surgery) isn't expected to return before the end of the first round. Getting back Matt Duchene (knee) and John Mitchell (concussion) before the end of this series is also unlikely.
The Avalanche had a league-leading 28-4-8 record in one-goal games.
With 41 victories, goaltender Semyon Varlamov broke Patrick Roy's season-single wins record with the Colorado Avalanche.
Zach Parise-Charlie Coyle-Mikko Koivu
Erik Haula-Jason Pominville-Matt Moulson
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Cody McCormick-Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella-Jonathon Blum
Jason Pominville scored three goals and six points in his last three contests. He won the team's scoring race with 60 points in 82 games this season.
Nino Niederreiter had just two points in eight games to wrap up the 2013-14 campaign. He had 14 goals and 22 assists in 81 contests overall.
Dany Heatley spent six of Minnesota's final eight games in the press box. Consequently we didn't include the once great sniper in our projection of the Wild's top four lines.
Minnesota has three goalies on the sidelines in Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom, and Josh Harding. They will also miss Michael Rupp for the first three games of the postseason because he's being punished for his high hit to T.J. Oshie.
Of the teams that made the playoffs, the Wild's penalty kill was worst in the regular season with a 78.8% success rate.