Click here for Corey Abbott's look at the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (7) Detroit Red Wings
When the 2013-14 campaign starts, the Detroit Red Wings will be in the Eastern Conference, but before that happens, these two division rivals will enjoy one final bout.
Given the present state of their teams, it’s hard not to call the Blackhawks the heavy favorites, but given the Red Wings’ history, it’s hard to simply dismiss them. And to be fair to Detroit, they haven’t gotten this far on reputation alone – they’ve earned it.
The Red Wings’ have had a string of terrific captains and in his inaugural season in that role, Henrik Zetterberg looks like a natural. He’s been Detroit’s best player when they’ve needed him the most and that certainly includes their first round series against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings top line is superb; they have strong goaltending, and veteran players with plenty of post-season success serving in support roles. Still, when compared to the Blackhawks, it’s clear they don’t measure up.
Chicago’s second through fourth lines are superior and the Hawks have the edge on the blueline. Corey Crawford is as close as they come to having a weak link and even that feels like a monstrously unfair statement, given that Crawford has been among the best goaltenders in the NHL this season.
You can’t even really say Detroit has an edge when it comes to post-season experience, given that many of Chicago’s core players have won a Stanley Cup while the Red Wings have been gradually giving bigger roles to younger players.
Detroit did beat the second seed Anaheim Ducks and despite the fact that Anaheim was mediocre in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, that was an accomplishment for the Red Wings. But, I don’t see this team being this year’s version of the Los Angeles Kings. I’m going with Chicago in five games.
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Andrew Shaw
Viktor Stalberg-Marcus Kruger-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brent Seabrook-Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford allowed just seven goals in the Blackhawks' five-game series against Minnesota. His .950 save percentage was also one of the best in the first round. Beyond that, it's worth noting that Patrick Sharp netted five goals in the first round after scoring just six goals in 26 regular season contests.
Jonathan Toews is perhaps the closest thing they have to a slumping player and even that's unfair. He had two assists in Game 5, but was scoreless in the first four contests.
Ray Emery (lower body) and Dave Bolland (groin) both missed the entirety of the first round, but should be available for Game 1 of this series.
By advancing past the first round, Chicago has already done better than three of the last four Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Blackhawks are the only team to go through the first round without allowing a single power-play goal.
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Daniel Cleary
Gustav Nyquist-Joakim Andersson-Damien Brunner
Todd Bertuzzi-Cory Emmerton-Mikael Samuelsson
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl-Carlo Colaiacovo
Captain Henrik Zetterberg has been leading the charge for the Red Wings with three goals and eight points in seven games. However, Damien Brunner is perhaps the most pleasant surprise after netting two goals and five points in his first NHL post-season series.
Niklas Kronwall has done a lot to help the Detroit Red Wings in this series, but he hasn't done most fantasy teams any favors. He has just one point and a minus-two rating to go along with six shots on goal. His numbers get more appealing if you value hits (16), blocked shots (15), or minutes per game (25:20).
Detroit will be without Dan DeKeyser, who needed surgery on his broken thumb. Drew Miller (hand) and Darren Helm (back) don't appear to be close to returning.
The last time these two teams faced each other in the playoffs was in 2009 when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the Western Conference Finals. Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup the following year.
The Red Wings couldn't beat Chicago at all in the regular season, but Detroit at least pushed three of those four contests into overtime.
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs (6) San Jose Sharks
The Los Angeles Kings might be the defending Stanley Cup champions, but they aren’t used to being the on-paper favorites. In fact, this is the first time since 1992 that the Kings will actually get to play Game 1 at home.
That’s a big advantage for the Kings, given that they were 19-4-1 at home during the regular season and the Sharks were 8-14-2 on the road. Los Angeles is also undefeated at home in the playoffs, although the Sharks had to beat Vancouver twice on the road during their four-game sweep.
Both teams have two great scoring lines and superb goaltenders that are proven winners in the playoffs. One X-factor in this series is Dustin Brown, who had just a goal and an assist in the first round, but scored three goals and four points in three contests against the Sharks during the regular season.
It will also be interesting to see if the Sharks can pick up where they left off after getting a full week off. That might be an undesirable amount of time for a hot team to rest, but after the condensed regular season schedule, it might actually prove to be a big advantage. You can also count on the Sharks to play with a lot of desperation, given that some of their top players are exiting their prime and they still haven’t won a Stanley Cup, and that should help mitigate any potential rust.
It should be a close series and any edge could be the difference. I suspect this series will go to seven games and at that point, I think the Kings should edge the Sharks with the backing of the Staples Centers’ crowd.
Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser-Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Alec Martinez
Jacob Muzzin-Slava Voynov
Jonathan Quick posted a 1.58 GAA and .944 save percentage in six games against the St. Louis Blues. Mike Richards had a team-leading five assists in the first round.
Dustin Brown has just a goal and an assist in six matches. By comparison, he tied for the team lead in the Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup-winning run with eight goals and 20 points in 20 games.
Kyle Clifford missed Game 6 due to an undisclosed injury and his status for Game 1 of the second round remains unclear. Matt Greene (undisclosed) missed the entire first round, but might return in the near future. Willie Mitchell (knee) isn't expected to be available for the playoffs.
Prior to the Kings, the previous two Stanley Cup winners (Chicago and Boston) both lost in the first round of the playoffs as defending champions. So if nothing else, the Kings have bested both teams in that regard.
The Kings were the third worst team on the draw in the first round with a 47.1% success rate.
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Raffi Torres
T.J. Galiardi-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Tommy Wingels-Joe Pavelski-Andrew Desjardins
James Sheppard-Adam Burish-Tim Kennedy
Matt Irwin-Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Brad Stuart-Scott Hannan
Basically the entire team, but the ones that stick out the most are Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. They both had eight points in the Sharks' four-game sweep. Couture found the back of the net three times during the series while Pavelski tied for the team-high with four goals.
Only four skaters participated in all four games and were held off the scoresheet in the first round. Of them, T.J. Galiardi was the most prolific scorer in the first round with five goals and 14 points in 36 games. So I guess he's the closest they have to a guy on a cold streak.
Martin Havlat suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1 and remains day-to-day at this time. Jason Demers (lower body) is also day-to-day after missing the first round, but the news isn't as good for Adam Burish (upper body). Burish was hurt in Game 4 and isn't expected to be available for the second round.
San Jose was the only team to sweep its first round opponent.
They have only faced the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs on one other occasion. In 2011 the Kings were the Sharks first-round opponents and San Jose won that series in six games.