With the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs set to begin Wednesday night, here's a look at the first-round matchups in the Western Conference, along with predictions for each series.
(Click here for our Eastern Conference preview
)Anaheim vs. DallasDucks:
54-20-8, 116 points, won Pacific Division and West's No. 1 seed.Stars:
40-31-11, 91 points, earned West's 2nd wild-card position.3 storylines
1. When the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were kids who offered up secondary scoring while complimenting the top line of veterans. Since then Perry has won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and Getzlaf is in the running for the award this season. They are now the go-to guys and very worthy of the responsibility that comes with the job. In the NHL these days it's all about a team's 1-2 punch and Getzlaf and Perry are one of the league's most dynamic duos.
2. Big changes in Dallas have produced immediate results. New GM Jim Nill, a graduate of the University of Detroit Red Wings, hired former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and obtained budding star Tyler Seguin from Boston. All three have played significant roles in helping Dallas re-establish the franchise as an NHL force. Seguin, in particular, cast away his party-boy image and became one of the league best and most consistent scorers.
3. Dallas is the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but won the season series 2-1 against the Ducks. What will that mean in the playoffs? Potentially nothing. However, if the Stars take a game or two early, it could really mess with the Ducks' heads. Seventh and eighth seeds have done significant damage against higher-ranked teams in the playoffs in recent years. That said, the loss of veteran centre Rich Peverley to a heart ailment is a big hurdle to clear.Season series:
Oct. 20: Ducks 6-3 at Anaheim.
Nov. 26: Stars 6-3 at Dallas.
Feb. 1: Stars 2-0 at Anaheim.Prediction:
Ducks in 6. Colorado vs. MinnesotaAvalanche:
52-22-8, 112 points, Won Central Division and West's No. 2 seed.Wild:
43-27-12, 98 points, earned West's 1st wild-card position.3 storylines
1. The Avalanche have had one of those dream seasons, rising from 29th overall last season to third. Talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse. Much of the credit deservedly goes to new coach Patrick Roy. The Hall of Fame goaltender served his apprenticeship in junior hockey and got his young players to buy into his program right from the get-go. Make no mistake about it, he had plenty of talent to work with despite their youth.
2. Colorado's Semyon Varlomov has been one of the best goalies in the NHL all season, while Ilya Bryzgalov, a bit of a whack job if there ever was one, has been a saving grace for the Wild with their injury situation. There are many who believe Varlomov, 25, should win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. As for Bryzgalov, 33, you just never really know what you're going to get, but he is certainly capable of winning games when he's in the zone.
3. Colorado missed the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons. As disappointing as a first-round defeat would be, most would be able to put things in perspective. This is a team that is rising in the West and will be a Stanley Cup contender very soon. The Wild, on the other hand, spent a bomb to acquire Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, so good results are expected now, if not yesterday.Season series:
Nov. 29: Avalanche 3-1 at Minnesota.
Nov. 30: Avalanche 3-2 at Colorado (SO).
Dec. 14: Wild 2-1 at Colorado (SO).
Jan. 11: Avalanche 4-2 at Minnesota.
Jan. 30: Avalanche 5-4 at Colorado.Prediction:
Avalanche in 6.San Jose vs. Los AngelesSharks:
55-22-9, 111 points, No. 2 in Pacific.Kings:
46-28-8, 100 points, No. 3 in Pacific.3 storylines
1. The Kings won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago after an indifferent season. They were the final team in the Western Conference to qualify for the playoffs that season and they hit the reset button when it counted most. Can they do it again? Nobody will dismiss the notion Los Angeles has a championship-calibre team, but sitting in the bush and then trying to crank it up in the playoffs is a dangerous game to play.
2. What to make of the Sharks? It seems they have been Stanley Cup contenders since Moby Dick was a minnow. They just never win it. Every year you hear the same thing -- if they don't win it this year they'll have to blow it up and start again. And yet GM Doug Wilson has resisted that temptation. Is this the year the Sharks officially become Logan Couture's team? For that to happen they'll have to win it all.
3. Defence wins championships and the Kings are the stingiest team in the NHL. Drew Doughty is regarded as one of the best defencemen in the league and Jonathan Quick's resume includes a Stanley Cup and Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP. On the flip side, Sharks stopper Antti Niemi also has a Cup (with Chicago) and the Sharks are also one of the league's best defensive team. Could we see seven 1-0 games?Season series:
Los Angeles 3-1-1.
Oct. 30: Kings 4-3 at Los Angeles (OT).
Nov. 27: Sharks 3-2 at San Jose (SO).
Dec. 19: Kings 4-1 at Los Angeles.
Jan. 27: Kings 1-0 at San Jose.
April 3: Sharks 2-1 at San Jose.Prediction:
San Jose in 7.St. Louis vs. ChicagoBlues:
52-23-7, 111 points, No. 2 in Central Division.Blackhawks:
46-21-15, 107 points, No. 3 in Central Division.3 storylines
1. For much of the season the Blues looked to be odds-on favorites to win their first-ever Cup. Then came the injuries. Star after star after star went down and the Blues ended the season on a six-game losing streak. In their final game of the regular season, a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Blues were without Brendan Morrow, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Derek Roy, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko. The guy who sells popcorn in Section 12 also has a bum elbow.
2. The defending champion Blackhawks also limp into the playoffs with injury concerns, most notably around superstar forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It is expected both will be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs. If they are healthy, Chicago stands a very good chance of being the first team since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back championships. Toews and Kane are winners. So is coach Joel Quenneville. So are defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. So are... the list goes on and on.
3. Ryan Miller is one of the best goalies in the NHL. Don't let his crappy record this season, especially down the stretch, fool you. Sure, five losses in a row and six in his final seven games is not exactly how Miller dreamed about entering the playoffs with a Stanley Cup contender, but this is his chance, once and forever, to prove his worth, his 2010 Olympic performances notwithstanding. In the NHL, playoff series often come down to the two guys standing at each end of the ice. In this series, Miller could be the difference.Season series:
St. Louis 3-2-0.
Oct. 9: Blues 3-2 at St. Louis.
Oct. 17: Blues 3-2 at Chicago (SO).
Dec. 28: Blues 6-5 at St. Louis (SO).
March 19: Blackhawks 4-0 at Chicago.
April 6: Blackhawks 4-2 at St. Louis.Prediction:
St. Louis in 6.
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