On Thursday we released our Eastern Conference second round preview with the Bruins and Habs getting underway, today we have our Western Conference preview. The Blackhawks and Wild start tonight with the Ducks and Kings playing game 1 tomorrow night.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #4 Minnesota Wild
A month and a half ago the St. Louis Blues looked like Stanley Cup favorites, but after falling down 2-0, the Blackhawks made quick work of them in games 3-6.
The Hawks averaged a full goal more per game than the Blues in round 1, while the Wild had five of their seven games vs. the Avalanche decided by one goal. Both squads did a good job shutting down their opponents power-play in the first round. Chicago has a post-season best 93.1% penalty kill rate, while Minny ranks fourth at 88.0%.
Both teams bolster deep lineups. The Wild were led by Zach Parise, who had 10 points (3G / 7A) and Jonathan Toews‘ seven points was tops for Chicago. Ryan Suter is the Wild’s best defenseman, but it is difficult to match-up against Chicago with Toews and Marian Hossa on one line and Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on another. As difficult as it is to match-up with the Hawks, it is just as tough to shut-down the Wild. With Dany Heatley and Nino Niederreiter playing their best hockey of the season, they have three lines who can produce offensively. However, Darcy Kuemper is day-to-day with an upper-body injury so Ilya Bryzgalov will once against start the series in goal. Bryz had a really hard-time in the first round, so Chicago certainly has the edge between the pipes.
Minnesota won the season series 3-2, but each team scored 14 total goals. The Wild are doing a lot of good things right now, but the goaltending edge should make the difference for the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. I will go Blackhawks in 6.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #3 Los Angeles Kings
The Ducks and Kings had extremely different first round experiences. The Ducks were comfortable throughout the duration of the series, while the Kings fell behind 3-0, before storming back to win 5-1 in game 7.
The 24-year-old Frederik Andersen started all six games for the Ducks but posted a 3.40 GAA and .892 SV% and was pulled in game 6. It is hard to say who will start game 1, but I would guess Jonas Hiller will get the call. Either way, the Kings have the obvious advantage in the crease. Jonathan Quick posted a 1.25 GAA and .963 SV% in the final four games of the San Jose series and 2011-12 Conn Smythe winner is an impressive 33-24 with a 2.15 GAA and .927 SV% in his 57 career playoff starts.
Anze Kopitar registered a point in all seven games of the first round and is tied for the playoff lead with 10 points. He also had three goals in five games against the Ducks this season. For the Ducks, it is all about Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They each posted seven points in the first round and combined for three goals and three assists in five games against L.A this year.
I may emphasize the importance of goaltending too much, but again I think Quick and the Kings will take this series. I will pick Los Angeles in 7 games.