Western Conference playoff preview | Hockey | CBC Sports

Playoffs 2013Western Conference playoff preview

Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2013 | 03:16 PM

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Captain Jonathan Toews, right and the top-seeded Blackhawks are going for their second Stanley Cup in four years. (Harry How/Getty Images) Captain Jonathan Toews, right and the top-seeded Blackhawks are going for their second Stanley Cup in four years. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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CBC Sports senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby breaks down the four Western Conference playoff matchups in the NHL and predicts which teams will advance.

Chicago (1) vs. Minnesota (8) 

Blackhawks (36-7-5, 77 points)

Wild (26-19-3, 55 points)

Three storylines:

1. There is no playoff history between the Blackhawks and Wild. A tale of the tape indicates this is a lopsided matchup. The Blackhawks opened the season with a 24-game point streak. They have the best goals for to goals against differential (155-102) in the NHL at plus-53. They also were the best road team at 18-4-2. But maybe Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom can steal the series. The 35-year-old from Helsinki can get hot and carry a team. He'll have to if the Wild want to win this series. He's also slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

2. Can the Blackhawks overcome the Presidents' Trophy curse? Only seven of the past 25 Presidents' Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The last club to win the rare double was the 2007-08 Red Wings. Three of the past four Presidents' Trophy champs -- San Jose (2008-09, Washington (2009-10) and Vancouver (2011-12) -- have been bounced in the first round.

3. The Wild squeaked into the playoffs on Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Minnesota's steep $196-million US investment on free-agent defenceman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise last summer paid off with its first playoff spot since 2008. But can they pull off a Los Angeles Kings-sized first-round upset? "Let's make it clear: We're not done," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We're not going to sit on cloud nine and say this is a huge accomplishment. This is a step, a big step, a difficult step for us."

Season series: Blackhawks 2-0-1; Wild 1-2-0

Jan. 30 -- Wild win 3-2 at Minnesota (SO)
Mar. 05 -- Blackhawks win 5-3 at Chicago
Apr. 09 -- Blackhawks win 1-0 at Minnesota

Prediction: Blackhawks in 5

Anaheim (2) vs. Detroit (7)

Ducks (30-12-6, 66 points)

Red Wings (24-16-8, 56 points)

Three storylines:

1. The Red Wings won their last four games to extend its playoff streak to 22 seasons, just seven shy of the Boston Bruins' record of 29 consecutive years from 1968 to 1996. But as juicy as the Wings' impressive post-season run has been, they have not advanced past the second round since their back-to-back visits to the Stanley Cup final in 2008 and 2009. There will be plenty of focus on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who had three shutouts in his final seven outings.

2. Can the Ducks get their groove back? Anaheim struggled to the finish line with an ordinary 8-9-2 record in its final 19 games. The slump began with back-to-back losses to Detroit in Anaheim. Saku Koivu hasn't scored since Mar. 16. Teemu Selanne had seen his ice-time reduced. Blue-liner Francois Beauchemin finally scored his first goal in 13 games on Saturday. Meanwhile, power-play specialist Sheldon Souray hasn't scored a goal since Mar. 29.

3. Will Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg let up? The 32-year-old veteran was unbelievable down the stretch for Detroit. In the Red Wings' final four games, Zetterberg checked in with two goals and 10 points and reignited Johan Franzen's game. Franzen scored four times in the final four games.

Season series: Red Wings 2-1-0; Anaheim 1-2-0

Feb. 15 -- Ducks win 5-2 at Detroit
Mar. 22 -- Red Wings win 5-1 at Anaheim
Mar. 24 -- Red Wings win 2-1 at Anaheim

Prediction: Red Wings in 6

Vancouver (3) vs. San Jose (6)

Canucks (26-15-7, 59 points)

Sharks (25-16-7, 57 points)

Three storylines:

1. This is a rematch of the 2011 West final, in which the Canucks beat the Sharks in five games. Vancouver will enter the post-season with question marks surrounding the injury situations of goalie Cory Schneider and defenceman Chris Tanev, who is out with an ankle injury. Schneider was rested for the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, but the Canucks expect him to be ready for the series opener. But wouldn't it be something if Roberto Luongo has to play and saves the day?

2. The last and only time the Canucks and Sharks met in the playoffs, Raffi Torres was with the Canucks and delivered a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on San Jose's Joe Thornton in the third period of Game 4. Thornton suffered a separated shoulder, but played in the double-overtime series finale a couple of nights later. Now Torres is with the Sharks. He was a trade deadline day acquisition. The Canucks also tried to reacquire him. Since Torres joined the Sharks, they finished the season at 7-5-1.

3. Will a first-round loss cost either Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault or his San Jose counterpart Todd McLellan his job? Both have been in charge of two of the elite teams for some time now without a championship. Vigneault, of course, has a trip to the 2011 Stanley Cup final on his resume, but a second consecutive first-round exit would be disastrous for the 51-year-old coach, in his seventh season behind the Canucks bench. McLellan is in his fifth year at the helm of the Sharks. He, too, is trying to avoid a second straight first-round flop.

Season series: Sharks 3-0-0; Canucks 0-2-1

Jan. 27 -- Sharks win 4-1 at San Jose
Mar. 05 -- Sharks win 3-2 at Vancouver (SO)
Apr. 01 -- Sharks win 3-2 at San Jose

Prediction: Canucks in 6

St. Louis (4) vs. Los Angeles (5)

Blues (29-17-2, 60 points)

Kings (27-16-5, 59 points)

Three storylines:

1. Not much of a prize for the Blues and their remarkable late-season run. They reeled off 12 victories in their final 15 games to move from ninth place in the West to fourth and earn home ice in the first round. However, they will face the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, who have won eight consecutive games against St. Louis, including a second-round sweep last spring.

2. Will this be a different playoff run for the Blues' streaky goalie Brian Elliott? He resurrected his season with a solid finish, winning 11 of his final 13 starts. Now the up-and-down Elliott must continue his winning ways against a team that he surrendered 13 goals on 89 shots against in the four-game sweep a year ago.

3. The Kings also finished strong with a 10-4-3 run in their final 17 games, exhibiting the same aggressive puck-pursuit style that pushed them to the title last June. No team has successfully defended the Stanley Cup since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. Does head coach Darryl Sutter have his players poised to become the next team to win back-to-back NHL championships?

Season series: Kings 3-0-0; Blues 0-3-0.

Feb. 11 -- Kings 4-1 at St. Louis.
Mar. 5 -- Kings 6-4 at Los Angeles.
Mar. 28 -- Kings 4-2 at St. Louis.

Prediction: Kings in 7

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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