NHL

NHL Playoffs: Western Conference semi-finals preview

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After a thrilling opening round, eight teams remain in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Western Conference semi-finals contains two compelling matchups between rivals that are more than familiar with each other.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6 games

It seems fitting that the Blackhawks and Red Wings, which make up one of the oldest and most celebrated rivalries in sports, meet in this year’s playoffs.

As of next year, the long-time division rivals will no longer compete in the same conference due to realignment. That, however, will not affect how well the current squads know each other.

Chicago, the NHL’s best team during the regular season, had a much smoother first round than Detroit. The Hawks took care of the Minnesota Wild in five games. They looked their dominant selves on both sides of the puck, and the goaltending provided by Corey Crawford was nearly flawless.

The Wings, on the other hand, just squeaked by a strong Anaheim Ducks team. The roller coaster-type series went seven games and both teams had their moments of dominance. Red Wings fans were worried after a 4-0 loss in game three, but the resiliency of Detroit showed as they came back and won the pivotal game seven by a score of 3-2.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs for the 22nd straight year.

It’s an incredible feat but does not win them anything. The Wings may be the dynasty, but the Blackhawks are the best team in the league right now. In a matchup loaded with world-class superstars such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for Chicago, and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for Detroit, it could be the supporting casts that decide who goes to the conference finals.

The depth of Chicago’s forwards will cause problems for a Detroit defensive core that has been their Achilles heel this season.

Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks

Prediction: Kings in 5 games

With the Kings hoisting the Stanley Cup last year, and all three California-based teams making the playoffs this year, the hockey hype on the West Coast is at an all-time high. The rivalries between the three California teams are some of the best in the game, making a second round playoff matchup between LA and San Jose an intriguing one.

The Kings had an interesting first-round matchup with the St. Louis Blues. After sweeping the Blues last year, the Kings started this year’s playoffs by losing their first two games. It was unfamiliar territory for the Kings, who did not trail in any series on their run to the Stanley Cup last year. But after the two game deficit was established by St. Louis, LA showed why they are the champs.

They won the next four straight, using their size, strength, and depth to dominate the puck possession and advance to the second round.

For San Jose, it’s all about the playoff performance. The Sharks are a perennial contender in the Western Conference, but they never seem to get the job done in the playoffs.

They looked anything but that underachieving team in the first round. San Jose eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in a four-game sweep, the only sweep of the entire first round. Suddenly the Sharks look like the contender they are supposed to be.

The Sharks have a lot of talent, but the Kings all-around game may just be too much for them. The loss of big-hitting Douglas Murray at the trade deadline could prove costly against a physical team like Los Angeles. The Sharks looked great against Vancouver, but the Kings play a much more punishing and defensively sound game that San Jose will struggle to compete with. 

 

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