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NHL Western Conference Playoff Betting Preview: Round 1

NHL Western Conference Playoff Betting Preview: Round 1

NHL Western Conference Playoff Betting Preview: Round 1

The Anaheim Ducks are the best of a crowded lot atop the Western Conference playoffs. Anaheim wrapped a sensational season with a conference-best 54 victories and 116 points, but face a challenging road to the Stanley Cup final. Colorado, San Jose and St. Louis all finished with more than 110 points while Chicago and Los Angeles rounded out the 100-point club.

Here's our Western Conference playoff preview:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Season series: Stars won 2-1 SU, 2-1 over/under
Series prices: Ducks -185, Stars +165

Why bet the Ducks: Anaheim's 1-2 punch of center Ryan Getzlaf (87 points) and winger Corey Perry (82) finished second and fifth, respectively, in league scoring and guided the Ducks to the second-best offense in the NHL (266 goals). The Ducks tied St. Louis for the No. 2 goal differential in the league at plus-57, and finished the season on a high, reeling off four consecutive victories to corral the No. 1 seed in the West.

Why bet the Stars: Dallas gave the Ducks all sorts of problems in the regular season, winning two of three meetings and handing Anaheim one of its worst losses of the season - a 6-3 defeat back on Nov. 26. The Stars were one of the toughest home foes in the entire league, posting a 23-11-7 mark in their own building. Forward Tyler Seguin, who enjoyed a breakout season with 37 goals, could make life miserable for the Ducks defense.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Season series: Kings won 3-2 SU, 1-2-2 over/under
Series prices: Sharks -145, Kings +125

Why bet the Sharks: No team in the West won more games in their own arena than the Sharks, who tied Anaheim with 29 home victories while earning 63 of a possible 82 points there. Offensive stars Joe Pavelski (41 goals, third-best in NHL) and Joe Thornton (65 assists, second) paced a potent attack that produced the fourth-most goals in the conference, while Antti Niemi (39-17-7, 2.39 GAA, .913 SV%) starred in goal.

Why bet the Kings: Los Angeles had San Jose's number in the regular season, losing just once in regulation while limiting them to just three goals in their final three encounters. The Kings' stout defense and goaltending limited opponents to the fewest goals in the conference (174) by a sizeable margin - and was particularly stingy after the Olympic break, allowing an average of 1.91 goals per contest. 

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Season series: Avalanche won 4-1 SU, 2-2-1 over/under
Series prices: Avalanche -135, Wild +115

Why bet the Avalanche: No team in the NHL had a better road mark than Colorado, which went 26-11-4 away from home - mirroring its record at the Pepsi Center. Few clubs in the conference boast the balanced scoring of the Avalanche; five players reached the 20-goal plateau, while another five scored between 10 and 19 goals. Netminder Semyon Varlamov (41-14-6, 2.41 GAA, .927 SV%) emerged as a Vezina Trophy candidate.

Why bet the Wild: Minnesota comes into the post-season with plenty of momentum, having gone 6-1-1 to close out the regular season. Enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was sensational down the stretch, allowing two goals or fewer in five straight games bridging March and April - including consecutive shutouts over Pittsburgh and Winnipeg. If he outplays Varlamov, the Wild have a chance at the upset.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Season series: Blues win 3-2 SU, 2-3 over/under
Series prices: Blues -115, Blackhawks -105

Why bet the Blues: St. Louis positioned itself as a force throughout the regular season thanks to a well-balanced offense and a stingy defense before collapsing down the stretch to see its chances of the No. 1 seed disappear. Netminder Ryan Miller is better than his 0-5-0 record over the final nine days suggests, and the Blues' special teams (eighth in power-play %, second in penalty-kill %) gives them a big advantage in non-5-on-5 situations.

Why bet the Blackhawks: The defending champions know what is required to succeed over the gruelling Stanley Cup playoff stretch, and were able to allow star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to recover from injury - and earn some extra rest - heading into the post-season. Chicago boasts one of the league's top offenses (3.2 goals per game), and a rejuvenated Toews and Kane may tilt the series in Chicago's favor.

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