Records: Blues 29-17-2, Kings 27-16-5 Season series: Kings, 3-0-0 Last playoff meeting: The Blues hold the edge overall, winning two series to the Kings' one, but the Kings swept the Blues last posteason in the second round. Why the Blues will win: They will come out with a chip on their shoulder, there's no doubt. St. Louis must be ready and come out with some jump. It starts on the back with goalie Brian Elliott and star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who was injured in the series against LA last year. Getting T.J. Oshie back would be stellar. Time to use that home ice they worked so hard for to their advantage. Why the Kings will win: The Kings have owned the Blues (8-0 in last eight meetings including last year's playoffs) so it's tough to pick against the defending champs in this one. It seems like the perfect series for LA and last year's Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick to get going in these playoffs. If their young D (Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov) can hold steady, they'll be fine. Anze Kopitar's drought is about to end, too. Prediction: It may take a little longer than last season, but we can't see the Kings losing four games against these Blues. Kings in 6.
It really is the Wild West
OK, so the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't make the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they were so stinking close. Their mere presence in the Western Conference playoff race reminded us that when it comes to claiming the 6-8 spots, the West always seems more chaotic than the East. The Ducks and Wild are back in! The Red Wings barely made it, but they extend their streak of making the postseason to an unbelievable 22 years. After losing in the Western Conference final last year, the Coyotes shockingly missed the playoffs altogether. And the defending champion Los Angeles Kings will be the first team to try to repeat as Cup champs since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Keep clicking for a breakdown of each first-round series in the West.
1 Blackhawks vs. 8 Wild
Records: Blackhawks 36-7-5, Wild 26-19-3 Season series: Blackhawks, 2-0-1 Last playoff meeting: No previous meetings Why the Blackhawks will win: Captain Jonathan Toews (pictured, right) and his Chicago team started the season out on an unprecedented tear. The Blackhawks, winners of the Cup in 2010, went 24 games without a regulation loss. Patrick Kane seems to have grown up a bit (shocking, we know) and he might as well be the best player in the West right now. Chicago's only predicament could come in net. If Corey Crawford struggles in Game 1, does Joel Quenneville turn to Ray Emery? Will the injured Emery even be ready? Still, if goaltending is an issue, it will only be a minor blip. Why the Wild will win: Wild fans better hope Chicago's goaltending turns into the 2013 playoff version of the Schneider-Luongo dilemma in 2012. Sorry, Minny. Don'tchaknow it's gonna take a Herb Brooks-like miracle here? The Wild were a neat story after landing prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the offseason and now they need to be a neat story in the postseason. Prediction: A Wild team that got spanked by the lowly Oilers (6-1!) when it had a chance to secure a playoff spot in front of its home fans doesn't stand a chance against the hungry Hawks. Blackhawks in 5.
2 Ducks vs. 7 Red Wings
Records: Ducks 30-12-6, Red Wings 24-16-8 Season series: Red Wings, 2-1-0 Last playoff meeting: In 2009 the Wings beat the Ducks 4-3 in the Western Conference final. Why the Red Wings will win: No one wants to face the boys who wear the Winged Wheel in the playoffs — this year, or any year for that matter. Forget that they just squeaked in (see 2012 LA Kings, 8 seed) because that never matters in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Playoff hockey is what wearing the Winged Wheel is all about and they were in that mindset all April while just trying to get in. On the flip side, it works in Detroit's favor that Anaheim limped into the playoffs. Goalie Jimmy Howard gave up just three goals in the last four games (all wins). And if you have guys named Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on your team, you always have a chance to win. Why the Ducks will win: If the Ducks can pull their heads outta their tail feathers they will be just fine. Led by Corey Perry (pictured, right), the Ducks started the season hot and padded their record. But Anaheim wasn't so mighty (get it?) toward the end of the season. The Ducks desperately need goalie Jonas Hiller to establish himself as the clear No. 1 in net, starting with Game 1. If captain Ryan Getzlaf and Perry can get going, expect a nasty series. Prediction: Momentum is all on the Wings' side here, but this is still going to be one of the best series in the West. Red Wings in 7.
3 Canucks vs. 6 Sharks
Records: Canucks 26-15-7, Sharks 25-16-7 Season series: San Jose, 3-0-0 Last playoff meeting: In the 2011 Western Conference final the Canucks owned the Sharks, 4-1. Why the Sharks will win: The Sharks match up well with the Canucks. They're both fast teams that move the puck well up-ice. San Jose has a goalie who's already won the Cup in Antti Niemi (2010 with Chicago). The Sharks will win this series if Niemi can steal it for them. San Jose holds a distinct advantage in special teams in this series (PP over 20 percent and PK over 85) and that's always a plus in the postseason. Why the Canucks will win: Those pesky Sedin twins are always better when they are together. Last playoffs Daniel Sedin was out, and by the time he came back, the Kings were already up 3-0 in the series. It's time for the Canucks to really dig in and show the NHL what they're made of (yes, we're talking to you, too, Cory Schneider). An embarrassing exit from last year should fire up Vancouver (fans in BC please don't take that literally). Prediction: Sorry, but the Sharks have always been postseason posers. Canucks in 6.