2011 NHL Playoffs: Breaking Down the Western Conference

Whitney OlsenContributor IApril 24, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 21: Goalie Cory Schneider #35 of the Vancouver Canucks stops a centering pass while Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Aaron Rome #29 of the Vancouver Canucks battle for position during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs   on April 21, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Rich Lam/Getty Images

Two possible elimination games are being played today that will help clear up a muddled Western Conference playoff picture. The Detroit Red Wings have already punched their ticket to the Western Conference semifinals with an impressive sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes. However, for the rest of the teams battling to advance, their future is not so bright.

Top-seeded Vancouver will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks in a pivotal Game 6 tonight. The Canucks hold a three games to two lead in the series, yet have lost their last two. In the last two games, the Blackhawk offense has exploded for 12 goals. For the Canucks to advance, Roberto Luongo must be sharp in net and give his team a chance to win.

Also, Vancouver's forwards must start finding the back of the net. Averaging a goal a game over their last two is not acceptable for a team that boasts the last two Hart Trophy winners in Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If the Blackhawks are to force a Game 7, they must continue being responsible defensively. With Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook keeping the Sedin twins in check, it opens up more opportunities to get their talented forwards scoring chances.

Another Game 6 being played tonight features the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks. The Predators hold a three games to two lead in the series. For Nashville, it could be their chance to win their first playoff series in franchise history, which is no easy accomplishment. For the Predators to be successful, they need their best players to continue to lead the team on the ice. Captain Shea Weber trails only Mike Fisher on the roster in points, and has logged a plus three rating over five games. Goalie Pekka Rinne has anchored the three wins, but has been less than stellar in net thus far.

The Predators will need solid play for their team to advance. The Ducks top forwards have played well all series, and that trend will need to continue if they hope to keep the series alive. Corey Perry leads the team with eight points in five games and Teemu Selanne leads the NHL playoffs in goals scored with five. Don't forget about Bobby Ryan either, who scored an electrifying goal last game and has three goals in the series.

On Monday, the San Jose Sharks will look to eliminate the Los Angeles Kings in Game 6. The Sharks hold a three games to two lead in the back and forth series. The Sharks will need to play a consistent and full 60 minute game if they hope to close out the series. San Jose has seen themselves trailing by multiple goals early into their last few games. The main concern for the Sharks is goaltending after seeing starter Antti Niemi chased from the game after making only one stop on four shot attempts.

The Kings hope to jump out to another quick lead to force a Game 7, and have been heavily relying on goaltender Jonathan Quick. Facing elimination in Game 5, the Kings goaltender rose to the challenge and made 51 saves and allowing San Jose a lone goal for their efforts.

Although the playoff picture out West seems unclear, important do-or-die games will determine who will represent the conference in the semifinals over the next few days. With three out of four series playing a sixth game, it has been an exciting and unpredictable quarterfinals in the Western Conference so far.