The 2013 NHL playoffs are almost upon us (Tuesday, April 30), and the excitement about the Western Conference's first-round matchups are the talk of the hockey community.
From perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks to underdogs with a chance to steal the show like the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks, this postseason is shaping up to be wild.
Each of the following marquee matchups makes the 2013 Western Conference playoffs some of the most exciting NHL games hockey fans will see all season.
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild
The Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5) come into this first-round series as the heavy favorites against the Minnesota Wild (26-19-3), but this matchup will be a good gauge of how well the No. 1 overall seed will perform this postseason.
Minnesota isn’t a serious contender in the Western Conference playoffs, but the defensive unit of the Wild can give the Blackhawks fits if they don’t take their opponents seriously.
Chicago must come out on fire.
The Blackhawks have their own superior defense (first in the NHL allowing just two goals per game), and along with the scoring of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Chicago has the clear advantage in this opening round.
Prediction: Chicago over Minnesota, 4-1.
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings
While the Detroit Red Wings (24-16-8) deserve immense credit for making the late surge to grab a spot in the playoffs for the 22nd straight season, the Anaheim Ducks (30-12-6) are the superior team on paper and on the ice.
Detroit is still one of the toughest defensive teams in the league (fifth in the NHL with 2.3 goals allowed per game), but the potent Anaheim offense (eighth in the league with 2.8 goals per game and fourth with a power-play percentage of 21.5) will push the Red Wings beyond their limits.
Led by the elite threesome of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, the Ducks have become one of the most consistent offensive squads in the Western Conference and should have no problem advancing past Detroit into Round 2.
Prediction: Anaheim over Detroit, 4-2.
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks
The most intriguing matchup of the Western Conference’s first round is the battle between the Vancouver Canucks (26-15-7) and the San Jose Sharks (25-16-7).
The Sharks and Canucks are incredibly similar in size, team makeup and statistics (sixth and ninth respectively in goals allowed and both rank in the top-10 for penalty-kill percentage).
The only real difference is the power-play units.
Vancouver and San Jose both struggle offensively—19th and 24th respectively in goals per game this season—but the Sharks' incredibly potent power play ranks seventh in the league at a 20.1 percent success rate.
Led by captain and offensive leader Joe Thornton (40 points in 2013), San Jose will steal this series in spectacular fashion and send the Canucks home with a first-round upset.
Prediction: San Jose over Vancouver, 4-3.
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings (27-16-5) may be the defending Stanley Cup champions, but the team comes into its first-round series with the St. Louis Blues (29-17-2) as the lower-seeded underdog.
Despite the lack of mainstream attention, this series will be an absolute war.
Not only are both franchises predicated on strong defensive play (tied for seventh in the NHL with 2.4 goals allowed per game), the fact that each team has elite penalty-kill and power-play units will make this one of the best series of the 2013 postseason.
The major difference in this matchup is the offensive abilities of both organizations.
While Los Angeles is notoriously streaky offensively, they are still one of the top 10 teams in terms of scoring goals. St. Louis ranks 17th in the league in the category, and that lack of scoring will ultimately give the Kings the series victory.
Prediction: Los Angeles over St. Louis, 4-3.