Western Conference: Previewing first-round matchups

BY foxsports • April 14, 2009

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  • Spector: Eastern Conference playoff preview



    San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)



    Let the Battle of California Begin!



    The Sharks won the President's Trophy as the top regular-season team, but the Ducks overcame a sluggish first half and head into the playoffs among the league's hottest teams. The Sharks have to overcome a reputation for choking in the postseason and need their top players — especially Joe Thornton, team captain Patrick Marleau and goalie Evgeni Nabokov — to be at their best. The Ducks were 2007 Stanley Cup champions and most of their current roster knows what it takes to win. Young stars like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry led the way back then and they're even better players now.

    This one could be a real battle but the Sharks' depth in talent should carry them through. Spector's pick: Sharks in seven



    Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)



    This would appear a mismatch at first glance: The defending Cup champion Wings against a Jackets team making its first playoff appearance in postseason history.

    But it might not be as lopsided as it appears as the two split their season series, 3-3. The Red Wings possess plenty of experience, tremendous firepower, a solid defense and a strong puck possession game. Yet their goaltending has been average, which could prove a fatal flaw.

    The Jackets have some seasoned postseason veterans on their roster, but they'll be looking toward franchise player Rick Nash — making his playoff debut — to lead them offensively. They're well-coached by Ken Hitchcock and rookie goalie sensation Steve Mason was the main reason the Jackets clinched a berth. Detroit has the advantage in overall depth and experience but this series could turn on the goaltending. Spector's pick: Wings in six



    Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6)



    Both clubs overcame injuries to key players to finish the season strong. The Canucks possess one of the league's top goalies in Roberto Luongo and a deep defense corps. They have more offensive depth this season, but the Sedin twins -- the team's leading scorers -- will face pressure to step it up in the postseason. The Blues have gotten solid goaltending from Chris Mason and offense from promising youngsters like Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie and skilled veterans like Keith Tkachuk, Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald.







    The Canucks appear to have the edge in overall talent but the Blues are riding high on the emotional charge of their late-season surge which could push them to an upset victory. Spector's pick: Blues in six



    Chicago Blackhawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5)



    The Blackhawks finished the regular season strong, winning seven of their final 10 games. The Flames, on the other hand, squandered their lead in the Northwest division amid speculation key defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr are nursing injuries.

    This series will also be the first-time goaltenders Nikolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff face each other in postseason competition since Khabibulin backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup over the Flames. If the Flames defense corps is indeed struggling with injuries it'll put more pressure on their goaltending as well as captain Jarome Iginla's line to carry them through. It might not be enough to stop the energetic Blackhawks, particularly Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who are making their NHL playoff debuts. Spector's pick: Blackhawks in five


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