NHL Western Conference semifinals preview | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaNHL Western Conference semifinals preview

Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 03:03 PM

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Chatty captain Jonathan Toews, right, and the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks will try to get past Jared Spurgeon and the Wild in the second round. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Chatty captain Jonathan Toews, right, and the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks will try to get past Jared Spurgeon and the Wild in the second round. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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The NHL's Western Conference semifinals begin Friday night with Minnesota visiting Stanley Cup champion Chicago. Here's a breakdown of that series and the Ducks-Kings matchup.
The NHL's Western Conference semifinals begin Friday night with Minnesota visiting Stanley Cup champion Chicago.

Here's a breakdown of that series and the all-California Ducks-Kings matchup:

Chicago (5) vs. Minnesota (7)

Blackhawks: 46-21-15, 107 points, 3rd in Central Division, defeated St. Louis 4-2 in 1st round.

Wild: 43-27-12, 98 points, top wild card, defeated Colorado 4-3 in 1st round.

Three storylines

1. After dropping the first two games of their opening-round series to the St. Louis Blues, games that went to overtime after the Blackhawks blew late third-period leads, Chicago kicked it into gear and blew its opponents out of the water. It is almost as though the defending Stanley Cup champs needed a wakeup call to start taking this year's playoff seriously. Now that they are aware, the Blackhawks are the team to beat in the Western Conference with a healthy blend of experience, size and speed. Throw in the fact Joel Quenneville has the third-most NHL regular-season coaching wins of all time and you get an idea of what a monumental task it will be to defeat the Blackhawks.

2. Corey Crawford seemed to be a question mark for the Blackhawks entering the playoffs, but his performance against the Blues calmed those worries. The 29-year-old Montreal native was solid and dependable in leading the Blackhawks to a championship last season and he was solid and dependable in Round 1. The Wild, on the other hand, advanced to Round 2 despite their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov started and finished the series, but one never gets the feeling the organization is comfortable with his play. Darcy Kuemper started Game 7, but left after 51:47 with an undisclosed injury. You can get away with questionable goaltending against a young, inexperienced team like the Colorado Avalanche, but a veteran squad like the Blackhawks will feast on Minnesota's weakness.

3. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is playing like a man possessed. When you have people in the hockey world debating whether Toews, and not Sidney Crosby, should be the player you would start a franchise with, that is quite the compliment. The 26-year-old leader scored three goals in the first round against the Blues -- all game-winners. When his team dropped the first two games of the playoffs, he took it upon himself to lead Chicago back into the series. He is chatty in the dressing room, but always backs up his words on the ice. Nine of his 23 career playoff goals are game-winners.

Season series: Wild 3-1-1.

Oct. 26: Wild 5-3 at Chicago
Oct. 28: Blackhawks 5-1 at Minnesota
Dec. 5: Wild 4-3 at Minnesota
Jan. 23: Wild 2-1 at Minnesota
April 3: Blackhawks 3-2 at Chicago (SO)
 
Anaheim (1) vs. Los Angeles (6)

Ducks: 54-20-8, 116 points, 1st in Pacific Division, defeated Dallas 4-2 in 1st round.

Kings: 46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, defeated San Jose 4-3 in 1st round.

Three storylines

1. The Kings tend to play a little possum during the regular season and then kick it into gear at playoff time. They took it a step further this season, dropping the first three games of their opening-round series against San Jose before becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0. Don't be fooled by the Kings' sixth-place finish in the Western Conference -- they are a better team than their record indicates. Two seasons removed from winning the Stanley Cup, the Kings have a boatload of experience and, when he is on his game, one of the best goalies in the NHL in Jonathan Quick.

2. Ryan Getzlaf is a very deserving finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and, along with linemate Corey Perry, forms one of the league`s most dynamic duos. Not even a puck to the face that caused him to get 50-plus stitches could slow Getzlaf down in the first round as he continued to be one of the league's most dangerous scorers by notching three goals and seven points. This after he finished second to Sidney Crosby in the regular season with 31 goals and 87 points in 77 games.

3. Quick recovered nicely after a horrible start to his playoffs, so there are no concerns with the Kings' goaltending. The Ducks, on the other hand, flipped between veteran Jonas Hiller and up-and-comer Frederik Andersen through the first round. They ultimately settled on Hiller and he'll likely get the start in Game 1 against the Kings. He will, however, probably be on a short leash.

Season series: Ducks 4-0-1.

Dec. 3: Kings 3-2 at Anaheim (SO)
Jan. 23: Ducks 2-1 at Anaheim
Jan. 25: Ducks 3-0 at Los Angeles
March 15: Ducks 2-1 at Los Angeles
April 12: Ducks 4-3 at Los Angeles (SO)

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