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2009 NHL Playoffs: Western Conference first round preview

Although the season is over for the Dallas Stars, Defending Big D is still dedicated to covering playoff hockey. It's the most exciting time in all of sports and each year features classic games, rife with intensity, drama and emotion. Yesterday, Derek previewed the Eastern Conference playoff matchups. Today, we'll look at the Western Conference playoff matchups.

Here is how the Western Conference matchups for the first round look, as well as the schedule for each series.


#1 San Jose Sharks Vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks
Fear the Fin | Battle of California (with extra Chen!)

Four teams in the West have made the playoffs every year since the lockout and the Sharks and Ducks are two of those select teams (Detroit and Calgary are the other two). Not to mention, both teams have been to the playoffs many times during the '00's.

And yet, this will mark the first time EVER that two teams from the state of California have met in a playoff series. Unfortunately for the Ducks, this may be a rather quick series as the Sharks have the Ducks trumped on just about every statistical category

I give the Ducks full marks for being able to pull together the last month and make the playoffs despite the departures of Chris Kunitz, Sami Pahlsson, Travis Moen, and Kent Huskins (the latter two having been traded to the Sharks last month). But two things are working against them in this series that also happen to play right into San Jose's hands.

They take a lot of penalties and San Jose has the third best power play in all the NHL. So unless the Ducks have been saving all that they have learned from their meeting with Stephen Walkom earlier this year, I'm going to say Sharks in 5.

They're just too powerful. And besides, advancing past the first round hasn't been an issue for them in their previous five playoff appearances.

Thursday, April 16 at San Jose, 9:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Sunday, April 19 at San Jose, 9:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, April 21 at Anaheim, 9:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Thursday, April 23 at Anaheim, 9:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Saturday, April 25 at San Jose, 9:00 p.m.
*Monday, April 27 at Anaheim, TBD VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, April 29 at San Jose, TBD VERSUS, CBC, RDS




#2 Detroit Red Wings Vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets
Winging it in Motown | Uhh...Mirtle's working on that I think (link goes to Official Site)

By some Red Wing's fans standards, the club played maybe 10 or 11 of the kind of games you need to play in order to win the Stanley Cup in June. And yet, somehow, this team managed to amass 112 points AND lock up Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg to LOOOOOOONG term deals.

On a side note, I think time will tell whether or not these decisions were good decisions. Still, Ken Holland's proven to be ahead of the curve more times than not. And if he can get big name players to take a Detroit Discount for the sake of competing for Cups year in and year out, more power to him.

Still, I don't think the concerns of the certain blogger I referenced (who just happens to be my favorite in all the Internets) should be automatically dismissed all because of the number of points Detroit put up this season.

Goaltending, for one, is a major concern. Oh sure, it was concern last year until Mike Babcock put Chris Osgood in for the remainder of the playoff run and told Hasek to go sit in the car.

But this year, there just seems to be a different vibe to it all between the pipes. One that oozes of a first or a second round upset.

I think it'll be second round.

I mean, I love Hitch and all. I love Rick Nash and I especially love Steve Mason.  And while I think Vancouver would have been a tough matchup for them in the 3-6 matchup, there's something to be said for not having to go up against the defending champs.

Let alone entering the playoffs on a bit of a slump. Just look at the Dallas Stars from last year.

Nevermind, bad example.

Point is, I expect some team to give Detroit problems in the playoffs and possibly knock them out. While I could see Hitch's group giving the Wings fits, I can't see them pulling off the upset in this round.

So give me Detroit in 6.

Thursday, April 16 at Detroit, 6:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
Saturday, April 18 at Detroit, 5:00 p.m. TSN
Tuesday, April 21 at Columbus, 6:00 p.m. TSN
Thursday, April 23 at Columbus, 6:00 p.m. TSN
*Saturday, April 25 at Detroit, 6:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
*Moday, April 27 at Columbus, 2:00 p.m. TSN
*Wednesday, April 29 at Detroit, TBD VERSUS, TSN




#3 Vancouver Canucks Vs. #6 St. Louis Blues
Nucks Misconduct | St. Louis Game Time

If there's one series in the West that I think is almost lock for going the full 7, this is it. Vancouver made a late season charge to take the Northwest Division title away from Calgary while St. Louis did something more impressive in marching from dead last in the 15th to all the way to 6th.

Thank God Versus has committed to televising every game in this series. Because I could easily see at least two of these games going to OT. And one going to double OT.

With.....another going to quadruple OT, perhaps.

Anyway, David Backes and T.J. Oshie have gotten their fair share of pub for this incredible run, and it's richly deserved. But the moment that Andy Murray got this ship turned around is when he told Manny Legace to take a hike and gave the ball to Chris Mason.

In the end, I like Roberto Luongo just a little more in goal than Mason and I like the Canucks' overall playoff experience plus having a potential Game 7 in the confines of GM Place over the inexperience of the Blues. I recall Game 7 of the Stars-Canucks series and had that game not occurred in Vancouver, Dallas would have taken that series. In fact, they almost took it in Game 7 before the crowd picked up the Canucks and carried them to the win.


Wednesday, April 15 at Vancouver, 9:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS, RDS
Friday, April 17 at Vancouver, 9:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS, RDS
Sunday, April 19 at St. Louis, 6:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
Tuesday, April 21 at St. Louis, 7:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
*Friday, April 24
at Vancouver, 9:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS, RDS
*Sunday, April 26 at St. Louis, 7:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS, RDS
*Tuesday, April 28 at Vancouver, TBD. CBC, VERSUS, RDS




#4 Chicago Blackhawks Vs. #5 Calgary Flames
Second City Hockey | Matchsticks and Gasoline

I know Flames fans think all they have to say is Hey There, Iginla, and their road to the Stanley Cup Finals will be paved by Calgary's most popular superhero.

But aside from the outstanding Mike Cammalleri, Jarome Iginla doesn't have much in the way of offensive support. After the Richmond Hill, Ontario native and the former top draft pick of the Dallas Stars, there's quite a drop off to Rene Bourque, who potted 21 goals this season.

And he also can't play goal, either. Which, if you're looking for a part of the Flames' game that has really fallen off in the last month, look no further than Mikka Kipprusoff, who played 76 games for Calgary and gave up four or more goals in four of his last five losses, which helped contribute to his 2.84 GAA average this season.

Simply put, the Hawks have more scoring balance. Not quite Navy Seals versus Somali Pirates. But that analogy is in the rink.

And despite some of Cristobal Huet's and Nikolai Khabibulin's struggles in net, they still have better goaltending, better defense, and more scoring balance.

Still, there is one area of concern and that is the health of Patrick Sharp, who is currently listed as day-to-day with a...well, does it really matter what reason teams use this time of year? You could have a severed leg hanging by a tendon and you'd be listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Just how vital is the cog known as Patrick Sharp to the Hawks offense? He was out over a month after Steve Ott hit him early on Valentine's Day night, and he still finished third in goals scored on the Hawks with 26 behind Martin Havlat's 29 goals and Jonathan Toews' 34 goals.

Even if Sharp isn't able to give it a go in this series (he's been out since April 3rd), I think the Blackhawks have regained their stride from earlier in the season to be too much for Calgary. They swept the season series and are a threat to sweep this one, too.

I'll give the Flames one game, but that's it. Chicago in 5.

Thursday, April 16 at Chicago, 7:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Saturday, April 18 at Chicago, TBD TSN
Monday, April 20
at Calgary, 8:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Wednesday, April 22 at Calgary, TBD TSN, VERSUS
*Saturday, April 25 at Chicago, 9:00 p.m. TSN,RIS
*Monday, April 27 at Calgary, TBD TSN
*Wednesday, April 29 at Chicago, TBD TSN