Playoff Previews : The Western Conference 1st Round

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight I take a look at the other three series in the Western Conference.

Pacific Division


(1) Anaheim Ducks (116 pts, 54-20-8) vs (WC) Dallas Stars (91 pts, 40-31-11)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Wednesday, April 16 at 9 pm CDT

Stars at Ducks

Gm 2

Friday, April 18 at 9 pm CDT

Stars at Ducks

Gm 3

Monday, April 21 at 8:30 pm CDT

Ducks at Stars

Gm 4

Wednesday, April 23 at 7 pm CDT

Ducks at Stars

Gm 5*

Friday, April 25 at 9:30pm CDT

Stars at Ducks

Gm 6*

Sunday, April 27 (Time TBD)

Ducks at Stars

Gm 7*

Tuesday, April 29 (Time TBD)

Stars at Ducks

Regular Season Series

10/20/2013

@ANA 6, DAL 3

11/26/2013

@DAL 6, ANA 3

2/1/2014

DAL 2, @ANA 0

Leading Scorers

ANA

DAL

Points

Ryan Getzlaf, 87

Points

Tyler Seguin, 84

Goals

Corey Perry, 43

Goals

Tyler Seguin, 37

Assists

Ryan Getzlaf, 56

Assists

Tyler Seguin, 47

Goalie Matchup

Jonas Hiller (29-13-7, .911 save %, 2.48 GAA, 5 SO) vs Kari Lehtonen (33-20-10, .919 save %, 2.41 GAA, 5 SO)

Bruce Boudreau heads into the post season after an impressive regular season where the majority of his team's offensive production has come from one line.  Sound familiar? Unfortunately for Ducks fans, this movie usually doesn't end well.  Only time will tell if this will be another year of underachievement for a Boudreau led team.  The Ducks are going to need to find a way for somebody else besides Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to provide some consistent offense if they want to avoid their second straight first round exit.

The Stars went through a summer of change when they hired a new general manager and head coach and acquired a budding young superstar.  Tyler Seguin has been on a mission to show that his party boy reputation is a thing of the past all season long.  Seguin along with, one of the most underrated players in game, Jamie Benn has provided the Stars with their own solid 1-2 punch.  Lindy Ruff provided the leadership down the stretch needed in Dallas to avoid another late season collapse costing them a playoff spot.  Throw in gritty players like Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel and this Stars team could be a very tough draw for the Western Conference's top team.

Dallas has the benefit of the better coach and goaltender, and I think that makes the difference as I am going with the upset, Stars in seven.

(2) San Jose Sharks (111 pts, 51-22-9) vs (3) Los Angeles Kings (100 pts, 46-28-8)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Thursday, April 17 at 9:30pm CDT

Kings at Sharks

Gm 2

Sunday, April 20 at 9 pm CDT

Kings at Sharks

Gm 3

Tuesday, April 22 at 9 pm CDT

Sharks at Kings

Gm 4

Thursday, April 24 at 9:30pm CDT

Sharks at Kings

Gm 5*

Saturday, April 26 (Time TBD)

Kings at Sharks

Gm 6*

Monday, April 28 (Time TBD)

Sharks at Kings

Gm 7*

Wednesday, April 30 (Time TBD)

Kings at Sharks

Regular Season Series

10/30/2013

@LAK 4, SJS 3 (OT)

11/27/2013

@SJS 3, LAK 2 (SO)

12/19/2013

@LAK 4, SJS 1

1/27/2014

LAK 1, @SJS 0

4/3/2014

@SJS 2, LAK 1

Leading Scorers

SJS

LAK

Points

Joe Pavelski, 79

Points

Anze Kopitar, 70

Goals

Joe Pavelski, 41

Goals

Anze Kopitar, 29

Assists

Joe Thornton, 65

Assists

Anze Kopitar, 41

Goalie Matchup

Antti Niemi (39-17-7, .913 save %, 2.39 GAA, 4 SO) vs Jonathan Quick (27-17-4, .915 save %, 2.07 GAA, 6 SO)

The Sharks and Kings treated us to a great seven game series last season in the 2nd round.  It's a shame that one of these two teams has to go out in the first round but those are the breaks in the new playoff format.  Five of the seven games were decided by one game last season and I expect more of the same in this year's rematch between this two interstate rivals.

The Sharks are another team who always come up short in the post season.  Every year I think it's going to be different and once again I am taking the bait.  Joe Pavelski has emerged as an elite goal scorer as he finished third in the NHL with 41 goals.  The previous versions of the Sharks did not include the dynamic Tomas Hertl.  Joe Thornton has become one of the top set up men in the league and Brent Burns is the type of power forward needed to succeed in the playoffs.

The Kings problem the last couple of years, even when they won the Stanley Cup in 2012, has been scoring goals.  The addition of Marion Gaborik has given a boost to the Kings offense after a slow start.  The Olympic break seemed to wonders for the Kings' offense as they score three or more goals 15 times in the last 23 games after achieving that feat only 26 times in the first 69 games.  Anze Kopitar has quietly become one of the most consistent point producers in the league.  Throw in Jonathan Quick between the pipes and a Kings team that can score goals becomes a very scary opponent.

Every sensible fiber in my body tells me to pick the Kings but I am going to drink the teal Kool Aid again and take the Sharks in a hotly contested seven game series.  Yes, it is hard to cheer for a team that pays the skid mark on the underwear of life that is Raffi Torres, but that's the road I have chosen.

Central Division

(1) Colorado Avalanche (112 pts, 52-22-8) vs (WC) Minnesota Wild (98 pts, 43-27-12)

Series Schedule

Gm 1

Thursday, April 17 at 8:30 pm CDT

Wild at Avalanche

Gm 2

Saturday, April 19 at 8:30pm CDT

Wild at Avalanche

Gm 3

Monday, April 21 at 6 pm CDT

Avalanche at Wild

Gm 4

Thursday, April 24 at 8:30pm CDT

Avalanche at Wild

Gm 5*

Saturday, April 26 (Time TBD)

Wild at Avalanche

Gm 6*

Monday, April 28 (Time TBD)

Avalanche at Wild

Gm 7*

Wednesday, April 30 (Time TBD)

Wild at Avalanche

Regular Season Series

11/29/2013

COL 3, @MIN 1

11/30/2013

@COL 3, MIN 2 (SO)

12/14/2013

MIN 2, @COL 1 (SO)

1/11/2014

COL 4, @MIN 2

1/30/2014

@COL 5, MIN 4

Leading Scorers

COL

MIN

Points

Matt Duchene, 70

Points

Jason Pominville, 60

Goals

Ryan O'Reilly, 28

Goals

Jason Pominville, 30

Assists

Matt Duchene, 47

Assists

Mikko Koivu, 43

Goalie Matchup

Semyon Varlamov (41-14-6, .927 save %, 2.41 GAA, 2 SO) vs Ilya Bryzgalov (12-9-8, .909 save %, 2.68 GAA, 4 SO)

So how exactly did the Colorado Avalanche go from the last place team in the Western Conference to Central Division champs in just one season? A lot had to happen, of course.  They hired a dynamic and bat shit crazy coach in Patrick Roy.  They had a starting goaltender have career year all while being arrested for domestic battery.  They had their young core all take a step forward at the same just like the Blackhawks of 2009.  But they still had some luck along the way, just like any team that wins a division.  Will the breaks follow along the Avs as the majority of them make their first venture into the Stanley Cup playoffs? Only time will tell.

In the summer of 2013 the Wild spent $196 million to land Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which helped them fight all season long to make the playoffs in both of their two years in the Twin Cities.  The Wild made some nice moves by adding Matt Moulson and Ilya Brzygalov for the stretch run.  If Minnesota wants any chance to pull off the upset they are going to need to rely on being physical in an effort to slow down the Avs, which is not their strong suit.  Mike Rupp will be unavailable for the first couple games because of his dirty hit on TJ Oshie, but a guy like Matt Cooke could be a major force in this series as long as he keeps it within the rulebook.

I'd love to pick the Wild to pull off an upset, and I will be cheering for it, but it so hard to pick a team with Bryz in the net to win. Avs in six.

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