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NHL playoff preview: Breaking down the first-round matchups

Moving from the West to the East paid off in playoff spots for the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets.

April 14, 2014|By Helene Elliott
  • Detroit Red Wings players celebrate a goal by Riley Sheahan during a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. The Red Wings' move to the Eastern Conference aided their efforts to maintain their impressive streak of postseason appearances.
Detroit Red Wings players celebrate a goal by Riley Sheahan during a loss… (Carlos Osorio / Associated…)

One season under the NHL’s realigned conference setup probably was enough for Eastern teams to veto future additions from the West.

The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, who moved from the West to the East before this season, won their new conference’s two wild-card playoff berths. The Red Wings will make their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance, and the Blue Jackets will make their second appearance in franchise history.

First place in the East — and overall — went to the Boston Bruins, with the Ducks winning the No. 1 spot in the West. Under the new playoff format, the division winner with the best record in each conference will play the wild-card team with the fewest points, and the other division winner will face the other wild-card team. Within each division the second- and third-place teams will face each other.

The first-round winners within each bracket will meet in the second round to determine the four conference finalists. Here’s A look at the matchups:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DUCKS (54-20-8, 116 points) vs. DALLAS (40-31-11, 91 points)

Season series: Dallas 2-1.

Power play: Ducks 16% (22nd); Stars 15.9% (23rd).

Penalty killing: Ducks 82.2% (13th); Stars 81.4% (21st).

Top scorers: Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf 31-56—87; Stars, Tyler Seguin 37-47—84.

Outlook: The Ducks set franchise records for victories, points and goals (263, excluding shootout goals) on their way to earning the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They’re resilient — they recorded a league-leading 26 comeback victories — and have speed and depth up front. They don’t have a sure No. 1 goalie, following Jonas Hiller’s late-season wobbles. Frederik Andersen has 28 games of NHL experience and John Gibson has three. Seguin, dealt from Boston to Dallas before the season, reached career highs in goals and points, as did left wing Jamie Benn. Dallas scored a lot of goals (235) but gave up nearly as many (228).

Pick: Ducks in six.

 Game 1

 Wed. at DUCKS, 7 p.m.

 Game 2

 Friday at DUCKS, 7 p.m.

 Game 3

 Monday at Dallas, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 23 at Dallas, 5 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 25 at DUCKS, 7:30 p.m.*

 Game 6

 April 27 at Dallas, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 29 at DUCKS, TBD*

SAN JOSE (51-22-9, 111 points) vs. KINGS (46-28-8, 100 points)

Season series: Kings 3-1-1.

Power play: Sharks 17.2% (20th); Kings 15.1% (27th).

Penalty killing: Sharks 84.9% (sixth); Kings 83.1% (11th).

Top scorers: Sharks, Joe Pavelski 41-38—79; Kings, Anze Kopitar 29-41—70.

Outlook: The Kings’ core is largely the same as in their 2012 Cup season but upgraded with the game-breaking potential of winger Marian Gaborik. Jonathan Quick (2.07 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and six shutouts) remains their backbone. Both teams are solid at center, but the Sharks have an offensive edge there with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, rookie Tomas Hertl and Pavelski, though Pavelski has played the wing mostly. The Kings need defenseman Drew Doughty, who missed the last four regular-season games because of a shoulder injury, to be in top form. This should be a hard-hitting, fierce series.

Pick: Kings in seven.

 Game 1

 Thurs. at San Jose, 7:30 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sunday at San Jose, 7 p.m.

 Game 3

 April 22 at KINGS, 7 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 24 at KINGS, 7:30 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 26 at San Jose, TBD*

 Game 6

 April 28 at KINGS, TBD*

 Game 7

 April 30 at San Jose, TBD*

COLORADO (52-22-8, 112 points) vs. MINNESOTA (43-27-12, 98 points)

Season Series: Colorado 3-0-1.

Power play: Avalanche 19.8% (fifth); Wild 17.9% (16th).

Penalty killing: Avalanche 80.7% (24th); Wild 78.8% (27th).

Top scorers: Avalanche, Matt Duchene 23-47—70; Wild, Jason Pominville 30-30—60.

Outlook: Colorado made an astonishing turnaround under first-year Coach Patrick Roy, who passed his competitive fire to his players. The Avalanche finished atop its division by winning eight of its last 11 games, despite losing Duchene to a knee injury that’s likely to sideline him in this round. Goalie Semyon Varlamov (2.41, .927) was outstanding most of the season. The Wild is disciplined defensively but lacks pop offensively. Injuries and Josh Harding’s struggles to regulate the medication he takes for multiple sclerosis have led Minnesota to place its playoff hopes in the gloves of Ilya Bryzgalov. That should be more entertaining than successful.

Pick: Avalanche in five.

 Game 1

 Thurs. at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 2

 Sat. at Colorado, 6:30 p.m.

 Game 3

 Monday at Minn., 4 p.m.

 Game 4

 April 24 at Minn., 6:30 p.m.

 Game 5

 April 26 at Colorado, TBD*

 Game 6

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