Chicago vs. Minnesota
Records: Blackhawks (36-7-5), Wild (26-19-3)
2013 series record: Minnesota 2-0-1.
Playoff history: First meeting.
CHICAGO: The Blackhawks tore through the Western Conference and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time. But what the Original Six team really wants is its second Stanley Cup title in four years after going 49 without one. Chicago started the season 21-0-3 and then cruised to a 10-3-2 mark in April. The Blackhawks are arguably the most balanced team in the league, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews tying for the club lead with 23 goals. The defense was the stingiest in the NHL, allowing 97 goals behind the goalie tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
MINNESOTA: The Wild secured their fourth playoff appearance in their 12 seasons, but first since 2008, when they beat Colorado in the regular-season finale – one day after being routed at home by Edmonton with a berth on the line. Much was expected after the team’s big free-agent signings of forward Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer. Parise led the club with 18 goals, and his Stanley Cup playoff experience from New Jersey should help his teammates. Suter was fourth on the team with 32 points, including 28 assists. The biggest challenge will fall to Niklas Backstrom, who will try to stop the high-powered Blackhawks offense. Backstrom tied for the NHL lead with 24 wins this season.
OUTLOOK: If Chicago is going to be seriously tested on the way to the finals, it won’t be by the Wild. Blackhawks in 5.
Anaheim vs. Detroit
Records: Ducks (30-12-6), Red Wings (24-16-8)
2013 series record: Anaheim 2-1-0.
Playoff History: Detroit 3-2.
ANAHEIM: If not for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pacific Division champion Ducks would likely be the odds-on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. Only Chicago (77) and Pittsburgh (72) had more points than the Ducks’ 66 this season. As impressive as Anaheim was at home in winning 16 games – including 13 in a row – the Ducks went 14-5-5 on the road. Top-line forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry tied for the team lead with 15 goals each, and Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan combined for only 23 goals – 12 for Selanne. Jonas Hiller and 30-year-old Swedish rookie Viktor Fasth split the goaltending chores and posted comparable numbers. Both had 15 wins and 6 regulation losses. Fasth had a 2.18 GAA in 25 games, and Hiller had a 2.36 in 26 appearances.
DETROIT: It wasn’t easy but the Red Wings managed to get into the playoffs for a 22nd straight season, clinching their spot with a win in the season finale. Detroit will have to navigate through the postseason without retired stalwart defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who anchored Red Wings teams that won four Stanley Cup titles and went to the finals six times in his 20 seasons. Jimmy Howard will have to be the ultimate backstop now after having a fine regular season in which he won 21 games and posted a 2.13 GAA. The Red Wings no longer rely on a potent offense. They managed only 124 goals in the regular season, with Pavel Datsyuk posting team-highs with 15 and 49 points. The Red Wings won their final four games by a combined score of 15-3 to get back to the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: The Red Wings returned to the postseason again, but won’t stick around too long. Ducks in 6.