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NHL Western Conference Playoff Preview: Round 1

NHL Western Conference Playoff Preview: Round 1

NHL Western Conference Playoff Preview: Round 1

The NHL’s Western Conference playoffs are seemingly always a crapshoot because very little separates all eight teams that qualify for the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Kings were the darlings of last year’s playoffs and are back to defend their Stanley Cup title as the No. 5 seed, but everyone is talking about the Chicago Blackhawks and their dominance on ice this season.

Here is our Western Conference playoff preview:

No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild

Season series: Blackhawks won 3-2 SU, 1-4 over/under

Series prices: Wild +325, Blackhawks -450

Why bet the Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are the Presidents’ Trophy winners for establishing the league’s best regular-season record. Chicago allowed a league-low two goals per game while netting 3.1 markers – the second-highest output in the NHL.

Why bet the Wild: The Wild haven't appeared in the playoffs since the 2007-08 season so their faithful are starved for playoff hockey. The frenzied Minnesota crowd is sure to make life difficult for Chicago at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild outhit the Blackhawks in all three meetings (66-38 overall) and could wear down Chicago in a long series. The Blackhawks have lost in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.

No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings

Season series: Red Wings won 2-1 SU, 2-1 over/under

Series prices: Red Wings +110, Ducks -140

Why bet the Ducks: The Ducks are the Pacific Division champs and boast a two-headed monster in goal. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth form a formidable one-two punch and coach Bruce Boudreau won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a goaltender switch at any point in the series.

Why bet the Red Wings: The Wings have already been playing playoff-style hockey down the stretch in order to qualify for their 22nd consecutive postseason. Goaltender Jimmy Howard has posted two shutouts during Detroit’s current four-game win streak.

No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks

Season series: Sharks won 3-0 SU, 0-1-2 over/under

Series prices: Sharks +110, Canucks -140

Why bet the Canucks: When these squads last squared off in a playoff series two years ago during Vancouver's run to the Stanley Cup final, the Sharks had a significantly higher physical component going for them, with the likes of Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Jamie McGinn. Vancouver has struggled against physical opponents at times throughout the regular season, but shouldn't be pushed around by San Jose. The Canucks have been cup contenders for the past few seasons, and boast a roster loaded with plenty of playoff experience.

Why bet the Sharks: The Sharks have one distinct advantage over the Canucks - a goaltender that boasts a Stanley Cup ring. Antti Niemi has been carrying the team all season long and has been there and done that in the NHL postseason. The Sharks also have an experienced core of forwards such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski that will be out to change their reputations as chokers in the postseason.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings

Season series: Kings won 3-0 SU, 2-0-1 over/under

Series prices: Kings -120, Blues -110

Why bet the Blues: The Blues fought hard down the stretch and won 12 of their final 15 contests to earn home-ice in the first round. They also have a hot goalie. Brian Elliott has returned to form, allowing just 16 goals in April on 305 shots (.948 save percentage). He also led the NHL in April with 11 wins and a 1.28 goals-against average.

Why bet the Kings: The Kings are the defending Stanley Cup champs. Los Angeles made history as the No. 8 seed last season and not having home-ice in any of the four rounds didn’t matter. The Kings will also welcome back captain Dustin Brown for Game 1 after he served a two-game suspension for an elbow on Minnesota’s Jason Pominville.

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