(3) Vancouver Canucks vs (6) San Jose Sharks
The Vancouver Canucks dominated in the 2011-12 regular season, only to fall to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. To be fair, no one did particularly well against the Kings in the 2012 playoffs, but they face a similar threat this year.
The Sharks have a reputation for underperforming in the playoffs, but they’ve posted a 13-6-1 record since mid-March, have a ton of offensive weapons, a solid defensive core, and a superb netminder in Antti Niemi. They’re a veteran team with guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who aren’t in the twilight of their career yet, but must realize they’re running out of opportunities to win the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver will counter with a fairly deep team of their own, led by Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. For the Canucks, Cory Schneider is the question mark and their decision to hang onto Roberto Luongo could be risky.
Luongo provides the Canucks will a viable alternative, should something happen to Schneider, but he could also prove to be a distraction. If Schneider, who has only played in eight postseason contests, falters in Games 1 and 2, the Canucks fans and media could start rally for Luongo.
There’s plenty of talent on both sides. It could go either way, but I think the Sharks will surprise people by edging out the Canucks in game seven.
Alexandre Burrows-Henrik Sedin-Daniel Sedin
Christopher Higgins-Derek Roy-Ryan Kesler
Mason Raymond-Maxim Lapierre-Jannik Hansen
Tom Sestito-Andrew Ebbett-Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis-Alexander Edler
Kevin Bieksa-Jason Garrison
Keith Ballard-Andrew Alberts
Dan Hamhuis had two goals and eight points in his last 11 games. Jannik Hansen has also stepped up with eight points in 13 April contests.
Derek Roy hasn't exactly been overwhelming since being acquired by Vancouver. He has three goals and six points in 12 games with the Canucks after recording 22 points in 30 games with Dallas.
Cory Schneider (undisclosed) missed the final two games of the regular season due to what Canucks coach Alain Vigneault helpfully referred to as a "body injury." It's believed that his absence was mostly for precautionary reasons, though, and that he'll be available for the series opener.
Vancouver previously faced San Jose in the 2011 playoffs and beat them in five games.
The Canucks were 15-2-4 when leading after one period this season, which might sound good but actually puts them in the bottom third of the league.
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Martin Havlat
T.J. Galiardi-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Raffi Torres-Joe Pavelski-Tommy Wingels
Andrew Desjardins-James Sheppard-Adam Burish
Matt Irwin-Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart-Justin Braun
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Scott Hannan
Martin Havlat hasn't been much of an offensive threat for most of the campaign, but he heated up in the final days of the regular season. He has three goals and five points in his last four games.
Patrick Marleau hasn't been terribly lately, but nine of his 17 goals were scored in his first five contests. In fact, he's only found the back of the net once in his last 16 games. He also has just five points in his last 13 games.
San Jose got off to a 7-0-0 start before falling to 12-10-6. They took off again in late March and never looked back.
Jason Demers missed the Sharks' final four games with what is believed to be a foot or ankle injury.
The Sharks rank seventh in the NHL with a 20.1 power-play success rate and sixth by killing 85.0% of their penalties.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs (5) Los Angeles Kings
Last year the Kings won it all as an eighth seed and swept the Blues in the process. They have largely the same team this time around, with the notable exception of defenseman Willie Mitchell (knee) and the addition of Robyn Regehr from Buffalo.
What the Kings did last season was magical, but it was in no way a fluke. Jonathan Quick is a top-tier goaltender, their core of top-six forwards is top notch, and they have a nice blend of offensive and defensive defensemen.
At the same time, St. Louis will enter the postseason with perhaps one of the most balanced groups of forwards from one through 12 and a great collection of defensemen. The midseason acquisitions of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold should pay dividends in the postseason.
Between the pipes, Jaroslav Halak is now healthy, but Brian Elliott has been nearly unstoppable lately. Either one has the potential to be a playoff hero.
The last franchise to win back-to-back Stanley Cups was Detroit in 1997-98. I don’t think the Kings, as good as they are, will end that drought. I’m picking the St. Louis Blues in six.
David Perron-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott is a hot-and-cold player who couldn't be hotter. He has a 1.28 GAA and .948 save percentage in his last 13 games.
Vladimir Tarasenko got off to a great start this season, but the rookie has slowed down considerably. He has no goals and just three assists in his last 15 contests.
Coach Ken Hitchcock now has a 72-32-13 record with the St. Louis Blues. He's led them to the postseason in back-to-back years after they failed to make the playoffs in five of their previous six seasons.
Barret Jackman (ankle) and T.J. Oshie (ankle) should both return for game one.
St. Louis had a 5-9-0 record when trailing after 20 minutes, which was tied for the fifth best record in the NHL under those circumstances.
Justin Williams-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Dwight King-Brad Richardson-Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Robert Scuderi-Slava Voynov
Matt Greene-Jake Muzzin
Jonathan Quick struggled earlier this season, but he's bounced back in a big way with a 2.25 GAA and .917 save percentage in his last 10 starts.
Dustin Brown has been more mediocre than cold, but he's entering the playoffs with four goals and six points in his last 11 games. He was also forced to miss the final two games of the season due to a suspension.
Matt Greene (undisclosed) missed the season finale, but he's not dealing with a long-term injury, according to Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
The Kings swept the Blues in 2012 as part of their Stanley Cup-winning run.
Los Angeles ranked second in the NHL with 1,446 hits in the regular season.