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(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (8) Minnesota Wild
Chicago was consistently dominant throughout the regular season, but that means very little now. Three of the last four Presidents’ Trophy winners have lost in the first round, so it’s not like regular season success alone is a reliable indicator of how a team will do in the playoffs.
That said, Chicago has a lot going for it. Many of these guys were there when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, but they have also endured the Blackhawks struggles since then. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have transitioned from being rising stars to seasoned veterans and the team has benefited.
Plus, the Blackhawks are deep this year, thanks to the rise of players like Brandon Saad and others like Bryan Bickell enjoying bounce-back campaigns. Goaltender Corey Crawford still needs to prove he can lead a team deep into the playoffs, but Ray Emery is about as good of a fallback option as you’re going to find.
On the other side, Minnesota limped into the playoffs with a 5-8-1 record in April. They certainly have some potential postseason heroes in Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Ryan Suter, but at the end of the day, they don’t look like they can match the Blackhawks in terms of pure depth.
Could the Wild pull off an upset? Sure, but I think this is one Presidents’ Trophy winner that can at least get past the first round. Look for Chicago to win in five.
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Viktor Stalberg
Daniel Carcillo-Marcus Kruger-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Brent Seabrook
Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane aren't really hot right so much as they are consistently superb. They each recorded 13 points in 13 games in April, which brings Kane up to 55 points in 47 games and gives Toews 48 points in 47 contests. Meanwhile, Brandon Saad broke out in March and stayed sharp this month with four goals and four assists in 13 games.
As you can guess from their 36-7-5 record, finding players who haven't clicked with Chicago is a challenge. However, Daniel Carcillo went from being a projected top-six forward to a fourth liner. He had two goals and three points in 23 matches this season.
Chicago set a new NHL record with its remarkable 21-0-3 start to the season. No other team has ever gone that deep into a campaign without suffering a loss in regulation time.
Dave Bolland (groin) is expected to be ready for game one. Ray Emery's (lower body) status is less clear.
Among their many accomplishments this season was Chicago's dominance in 5-on-5 situations. Chicago had a 1.52 goals scored/allowed ratio at even strength, which was easily the highest in the NHL.
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck-Kyle Brodziak-Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Michael Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk-Tom Gilbert
With most of the team struggling, Charlie Coyle has stepped up recently. He's taking a four-game point streak going into the playoffs.
Niklas Backstrom had an ugly 2.81 GAA and .889 save percentage in 14 April games. However, he did turn aside 29 of 30 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Although the Wild have never faced the Blackhawks in the playoffs, the old Minnesota North Stars were frequent opponents of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Minnesota is expected to be without Dany Heatley's (shoulder) services, but it's possible that Jason Pominville (suspected concussion) might return before the end of the first round.
The Wild missed the playoffs in each of their previous four campaigns, but some of their newer acquisitions have plenty of postseason experience. For example, Zach Parise has played in 61 playoff contests, and Ryan Suter has participated in 39 postseason games.
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs (7) Detroit Red Wings
The Anaheim Ducks were one of the biggest surprises this season after missing the playoffs by 15 points in 2011-12. Obviously Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry have been a big part of the Ducks’ success this season, but it’s their goaltending tandem of Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth that’s really made the difference.
Thirty-year-old rookie Fasth has perhaps been a bigger Cinderella story than the team. He posted a 2.18 GAA and .921 save percentage in 25 games, challenging Hiller for playing time all season.
The Ducks cruised into the playoffs, but Detroit had to scratch and claw their way in. Detroit making the postseason has become a tradition, but this isn’t the same squad that won the 2008 Stanley Cup. For this year’s team, getting to here was the accomplishment, as some of their youngish players like Damien Brunner, Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, and Brendan Smith are still climbing up the Red Wings’ depth charts.
The Wings certainly have established post-season threats in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Jimmy Howard, but the 2013 edition of the Red Wings is looking awfully thin. For that reason, I think Anaheim will take this series in six games.
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon-Nick Bonino-Teemu Selanne
Daniel Winnik-Saku Koivu-Andrew Cogliano
Radek Dvorak-Dave Steckel-Devante Smith-Pelly
Francois Beauchemin-Sheldon Souray
Luca Sbisa-Bryan Allen
Cam Fowler-Toni Lydman
Kyle Palmieri has three goals and eight points in his last 12 games. Although it's hardly out of the ordinary, we should also mention that Ryan Getzlaf has three goals and 11 points in nine contests.
Bobby Ryan is on a modest two-game point streak, but before that he was held off the scoresheet for seven consecutive games. He also had a minus-four rating in April, which is among the worst on the team.
Luca Sbisa (lower body) is hoping to return for Game 1.
Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller have both been great between the pipes. So who will the starter be? "I've known for a while who's going to be the goalie," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has said. "You're not going to know. You'll see Tuesday night." Expect a lot of non-answers from coaches during the playoffs.
Although this was a shortened season, the Ducks set a franchise record with a .688 points percentage. The team's best record was 48-20-14 set in 2006-07, but Anaheim was on pace to top that 110 point total.
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Daniel Cleary
Gustav Nyquist-Joakim Andersson-Damien Brunner
Patrick Eaves-Cory Emmerton-Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl-Dan DeKeyser
Detroit rode a four-game winning streak into the playoffs and Henrik Zetterberg was a huge part of that. He had two goals and an incredible 10 points in four contests. Jimmy Howard has also been great lately with a 1.44 GAA and .942 save percentage in 13 April starts.
Valtteri Filppula had 66 points in 2011-12, but he fell down to Earth with 17 points in 41 contests this season. He's only gotten colder as the season has dragged on, scoring just three goals and four points in his final 19 games.
Detroit has now made the playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons. They rank fifth on the NHL's all-time list.
The Red Wings and Ducks are no strangers when it comes to postseason series. Perhaps their most memorable meeting came in 2003 when the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings were swept by the Ducks in the first round. That Ducks team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
Fun fact about that Ducks team: They were coached by current Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock in 2003. Can he pull off a similar upset in a series where Detroit is considered the underdog?
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs (6) San Jose Sharks
The Vancouver Canucks dominated in the 2011-12 regular season, only to fall to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. To be fair, no one did particularly well against the Kings in the 2012 playoffs, but they face a similar threat this year.
The Sharks have a reputation for underperforming in the playoffs, but they’ve posted a 13-6-1 record since mid-March, have a ton of offensive weapons, a solid defensive core, and a superb netminder in Antti Niemi. They’re a veteran team with guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who aren’t in the twilight of their career yet, but must realize they’re running out of opportunities to win the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver will counter with a fairly deep team of their own, led by Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. For the Canucks, Cory Schneider is the question mark and their decision to hang onto Roberto Luongo could be risky.
Luongo provides the Canucks will a viable alternative, should something happen to Schneider, but he could also prove to be a distraction. If Schneider, who has only played in eight postseason contests, falters in Games 1 and 2, the Canucks fans and media could start rally for Luongo.
There’s plenty of talent on both sides. It could go either way, but I think the Sharks will surprise people by edging out the Canucks in game seven.
Alexandre Burrows-Henrik Sedin-Daniel Sedin
Christopher Higgins-Derek Roy-Ryan Kesler
Mason Raymond-Maxim Lapierre-Jannik Hansen
Tom Sestito-Andrew Ebbett-Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis-Alexander Edler
Kevin Bieksa-Jason Garrison
Keith Ballard-Andrew Alberts
Dan Hamhuis had two goals and eight points in his last 11 games. Jannik Hansen has also stepped up with eight points in 13 April contests.
Derek Roy hasn't exactly been overwhelming since being acquired by Vancouver. He has three goals and six points in 12 games with the Canucks after recording 22 points in 30 games with Dallas.
Cory Schneider (undisclosed) missed the final two games of the regular season due to what Canucks coach Alain Vigneault helpfully referred to as a "body injury." It's believed that his absence was mostly for precautionary reasons, though, and that he'll be available for the series opener.
Vancouver previously faced San Jose in the 2011 playoffs and beat them in five games.
The Canucks were 15-2-4 when leading after one period this season, which might sound good but actually puts them in the bottom third of the league.
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Martin Havlat
T.J. Galiardi-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Raffi Torres-Joe Pavelski-Tommy Wingels
Andrew Desjardins-James Sheppard-Adam Burish
Matt Irwin-Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart-Justin Braun
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Scott Hannan
Martin Havlat hasn't been much of an offensive threat for most of the campaign, but he heated up in the final days of the regular season. He has three goals and five points in his last four games.
Patrick Marleau hasn't been terribly lately, but nine of his 17 goals were scored in his first five contests. In fact, he's only found the back of the net once in his last 16 games. He also has just five points in his last 13 games.
San Jose got off to a 7-0-0 start before falling to 12-10-6. They took off again in late March and never looked back.
Jason Demers missed the Sharks' final four games with what is believed to be a foot or ankle injury.
The Sharks rank seventh in the NHL with a 20.1 power-play success rate and sixth by killing 85.0% of their penalties.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs (5) Los Angeles Kings
Last year the Kings won it all as an eighth seed and swept the Blues in the process. They have largely the same team this time around, with the notable exception of defenseman Willie Mitchell (knee) and the addition of Robyn Regehr from Buffalo.
What the Kings did last season was magical, but it was in no way a fluke. Jonathan Quick is a top-tier goaltender, their core of top-six forwards is top notch, and they have a nice blend of offensive and defensive defensemen.
At the same time, St. Louis will enter the postseason with perhaps one of the most balanced groups of forwards from one through 12 and a great collection of defensemen. The midseason acquisitions of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold should pay dividends in the postseason.
Between the pipes, Jaroslav Halak is now healthy, but Brian Elliott has been nearly unstoppable lately. Either one has the potential to be a playoff hero.
The last franchise to win back-to-back Stanley Cups was Detroit in 1997-98. I don’t think the Kings, as good as they are, will end that drought. I’m picking the St. Louis Blues in six.
David Perron-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott is a hot-and-cold player who couldn't be hotter. He has a 1.28 GAA and .948 save percentage in his last 13 games.
Vladimir Tarasenko got off to a great start this season, but the rookie has slowed down considerably. He has no goals and just three assists in his last 15 contests.
Coach Ken Hitchcock now has a 72-32-13 record with the St. Louis Blues. He's led them to the postseason in back-to-back years after they failed to make the playoffs in five of their previous six seasons.
Barret Jackman (ankle) and T.J. Oshie (ankle) should both return for game one.
St. Louis had a 5-9-0 record when trailing after 20 minutes, which was tied for the fifth best record in the NHL under those circumstances.
Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Dwight King-Brad Richardson-Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Robert Scuderi-Slava Voynov
Matt Greene-Jake Muzzin
Jonathan Quick struggled earlier this season, but he's bounced back in a big way with a 2.25 GAA and .917 save percentage in his last 10 starts.
Dustin Brown has been more mediocre than cold, but he's entering the playoffs with four goals and six points in his last 11 games. He was also forced to miss the final two games of the season due to a suspension.
Matt Greene (undisclosed) missed the season finale, but he's not dealing with a long-term injury, according to Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
The Kings swept the Blues in 2012 as part of their Stanley Cup-winning run.
Los Angeles ranked second in the NHL with 1,446 hits in the regular season.