Western Conference semifinals preview | Hockey | CBC Sports

Playoffs 2013Western Conference semifinals preview

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 11:21 AM

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The Red Wings have done a good job managing the average ice time of top forward Pavel Datsyuk. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images) The Red Wings have done a good job managing the average ice time of top forward Pavel Datsyuk. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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CBC Sports senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby previews the Western Conference semifinals and predicts second-round winners in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Chicago (1) vs. Detroit (7)

Blackhawks (36-7-5, 77 points)

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

Three storylines:

1. The next time the rival Blackhawks and Red Wings meet in the playoffs, it will be in the Stanley Cup final because Detroit will move to the Eastern Conference next season. This will be the 16th time the two Original Six clubs will clash in the post-season. The last meeting was in 2009, when the Red Wings beat the Blackhawks in the Western Conference final. Of course, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock relied on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews as well as defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to help Canada win gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. There also is the lingering saga of Marian Hossa, who bolted from the Red Wings in the 2009 off-season to sign with Chicago.

2. Will the length of their first-round series and all that travel become too taxing for the weary Red Wings? Detroit had to fly back-and-forth to California for three round trips for their seven-game, first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, finished up their series against the Minnesota Wild in a friendly five games. Babcock, however, did a good job managing the average ice time of top defenceman Niklas Kronwall (25:20) and top forwards Pavel Datsyuk (21:10), Henrik Zetterberg (20:30) and Johan Franzen (20:00).

3. Chicago's Corey Crawford and Detroit's Jimmy Howard want to become successful playoff goalies. This is the first time the 28-year-old Crawford has pushed the Blackhawks into the second round as a starter. His post-season numbers are not overwhelming with a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in 19 appearances. But Crawford's numbers are better than Howard's at .914 and only one shutout in 35 playoff games. The 29-year-old Howard has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. With a good performance by either, who knows? Crawford (Canada) and Howard (United States) may earn consideration for their respective Olympic teams.

Season series: Blackhawks 4-0-0; Red Wings 0-1-3

Jan. 27 -- Blackhawks win 2-1 at Chicago (OT)
Mar. 03 -- Blackhawks win 2-1 at Detroit (SO)
Mar. 31 -- Blackhawks win 7-1 at Detroit
Apr. 12 -- Blackhawks win 3-2 at Chicago (SO)

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

Los Angeles (5) vs. San Jose (6)

Kings (27-16-5, 59 points)

Sharks (25-16-7, 57 points)

Three storylines:

1. The Sharks need to find a way to solve Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. After off-season back surgery and a so-so regular season, Quick has returned to the form he exhibited a year ago in the playoffs. He had a .944 save percentage and 1.58 goals-against average in the first round against the St. Louis Blues. He has been on quite a playoff roll with 20 wins with four shutouts in his last 26 starts.

2. How are the Kings going to deal with the fact that they have home-ice advantage for once in this series? The last time they enjoyed a home-ice advantage in the playoffs was back in 1992, when they met up with the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. That was 17 playoff series ago. Of course, in their march to the Stanley Cup championship a year ago, they started each of their four series on the road and that also was the case in the first round against the Blues.

3. Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is more than a decade removed from his time behind the Sharks bench, when he was fired 24 games into the 2002-03 season. He never coached the Sharks past the second round in his five-plus seasons in San Jose and would like to stop the Sharks from advancing to the Conference Finals this time around. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi also was San Jose's former GM. The last time these two California-based teams met in the playoffs was in 2011, with the Sharks beating Los Angles in six games.

Season series: Kings 2-1-1; Sharks 2-2-0

Mar. 14 -- Sharks win 4-3 at San Jose
Mar. 16 -- Kings win 5-2 at Los Angeles
Apr. 16 -- Sharks win 3-2 at San Jose (SO)
Apr. 27 -- Kings win 3-2 at Los Angeles

Prediction: Kings in 5

First-round record in West: 3-1 (Canucks-Sharks series only miss)

Overall first-round record: 6-2

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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