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NHL: Western Conference preview

A series-by-series look at the four playoff matchups.

April 09, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • Kings defenseman Drew Doughty battles Canucks center Zack Kassian for position in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick during a game last month in Vancouver.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty battles Canucks center Zack Kassian for… (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press…)

Two division titles, several playoff positions and the Presidents' Trophy for the top overall record were decided on the final day of the regular season, a day that ended several postseason droughts.

The Pacific champion Phoenix Coyotes won their first division title, including their Winnipeg origins. The Florida Panthers won the Southeast and their first playoff berth since the 1999-2000 season, and the Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season. According to the NHL, the last time the Presidents' Trophy was decided on the last day was 1990-91.

Though there are new elements, but there's one constant in the Stanley Cup playoff field: The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the 21st straight season, the longest active streak in the four major U.S. sports leagues.

A breakdown of the matchups:

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Kings

Records: Vancouver 51-22-9—111 points. Kings 40-27-15—95 points.

Season series: 2-2.

Power play: Vancouver 19.8% (fourth); Kings 17.0% (17th).

Penalty killing: Vancouver 86% (sixth); Kings 87% (fourth).

Leading scorers: Canucks — Henrik Sedin 14-67 — 81; Kings — Anze Kopitar 25-51 —76.

Outlook: After an initial Cup-runner-up hangover, the Canucks regrouped and closed with an 8-1-1 surge. If goalie Roberto Luongo falters, they can confidently go to backup Cory Schneider. Their main concern is winger Daniel Sedin, out since March 21 (concussion). he suffered a concussion on March 21. The Kings, the NHL's second-lowest scoring team at 2.29 goals per game, need goalie Jonathan Quick to continue his Vezina Trophy-caliber feats: he posted a league-best 10 shutouts, ranked second in goals-against average (1.95), and sixth in save percentage (.929). The Kings will try being physical, but the Canucks can handle it.

Prediction: Canucks in six.

Game 1, Wednesday at Vancouverr, 7:30

Game 2, Friday at Vancover, 7

Game 3, Sunday at KINGS, 7:30

Game 4, April 18 at KINGS, 7

Game 5*, April 22 at Vancouver, TBD

Game 6*, April 24 at KINGS, TBD

Game 7*, April 26 at Vancouver, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks

Records: St. Louis 49-22-11—109. San Jose 43-29-10—96.

Season series: Blues 4-0.

Power play: St. Louis 16.7% (19th); San Jose 21.1% (second).

Penalty killing: St. Louis 85.8% (seventh); San Jose 76.9% (29th).

Leading scorers: Blues — David Backes 24-30 — 54; Sharks — Joe Thornton 18-59 — 77.

Keys: Blues goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak combined for 15 shutouts, the most by a team since Chicago's Tony Esposito had 15 in 1969-70. They must play at that level for the physical, defense-oriented Blues to hold off a team that ended on a good note. The Sharks have the talent to be explosive but more often implode and fall short of what's expected of them. Maybe being the underdog will change that ... probably not.

Prediction: Blues in six.

Game 1, Thursday at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.

Game 2, Saturday at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.

Game 3, Monday at San Jose, 7p.m.

Game 4, April 19 at S. Jose, 7:30 p.m.

Game 5*, April 21 at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.

Game 6*, April 23 at San Jose, TBD

Game 7*, April 25 at St. Louis, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

Records: Phoenix 42-27-13—97. Chicago 45-26-11—101.

Season series: Coyotes 3-1.

Power play: Phoenix 13.6% (29th); Chicago 15.2% (26th).

Penalty killing: Phoenix 85.5% (eighth); Chicago 78.1% (27th).

Leading scorers: Coyotes — Ray Whitney 24-53 — 77; Blackhawks — Marian Hossa 29-48 — 77.

Outlook: Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett worked miracles with a low-budget roster. Whitney and winger Radim Vrbata (35 goals, 62 points) had standout seasons. Goalie Mike Smith (2.29 goals-against, third-ranked .930 save percentage) carried the Coyotes down the stretch. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, out since Feb. 19 because of a concussion, practiced with the first line Monday but said he's not sure he will play Thursday. They miss his scoring, defensive smarts and leadership. Chicago had a rocky season with too many goaltending escapades to be a sure thing but unless they become frustrated by Smith early on they should prevail.

Prediction: Blackhawks in six.

Game 1, Thursday at Phoenix, 7

Game 2, Saturday at Phoenix, 7

Game 3, April 17 at Chicago, 6

Game 4, April 19 at Chicago, 5

Game 5*, April 21 at Phoenix, 7

Game 6*, April 23 at Chicago, TBD

Game 7*, April 25 at Phoenix, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

Records: Nashville 48-26-8—104. Detroit 48-28-6—102.

Season series: 3-3.

Power play: Nashville 21.6% (first); Detroit 16.1% (22nd).

Penalty killing: Nashville 83.6% (10th); Detroit 81.8% (18th).

Leading scorers: Predators — Martin Erat 19-39 — 58. Red Wings — Henrik Zetterberg 22-47 — 69.

Keys: The Predators stocked up for a Cup run while impending free-agent defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are under contract. Their biggest addition was game-breaking winger Alexander Radulov, back after bolting to Russia. Goalie Pekka Rinne led the NHL with 43 wins and 2,153 shots against. The Predators are plucky, but the playoff-experienced Red Wings are finally healthy. The Red Wings were formidable at home (31-7-3) but only 17-21-3 on the road. They'll have to win away from Joe Louis Arena and revive their underperforming power play.

Prediction: It's tough to pick against Detroit, but Nashville in seven.

Game 1, Wednesday at Nashville, 5

Game 2, Friday at Nashville, 4:30

Game 3, Sunday at Detroit, 9 a.m.

Game 4, April 17 at Detroit, 4:30

Game 5*, April 20 at Nashville, 5

Game 6*, April 22 at Detroit, TBD

* if necessary; times PDT

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