Click here for Corey Abbott's look at the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (7) Detroit Red Wings
When the 2013-14 campaign starts, the Detroit Red Wings will be in the Eastern Conference, but before that happens, these two division rivals will enjoy one final bout.
Given the present state of their teams, it’s hard not to call the Blackhawks the heavy favorites, but given the Red Wings’ history, it’s hard to simply dismiss them. And to be fair to Detroit, they haven’t gotten this far on reputation alone – they’ve earned it.
The Red Wings’ have had a string of terrific captains and in his inaugural season in that role, Henrik Zetterberg looks like a natural. He’s been Detroit’s best player when they’ve needed him the most and that certainly includes their first round series against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings top line is superb; they have strong goaltending, and veteran players with plenty of post-season success serving in support roles. Still, when compared to the Blackhawks, it’s clear they don’t measure up.
Chicago’s second through fourth lines are superior and the Hawks have the edge on the blueline. Corey Crawford is as close as they come to having a weak link and even that feels like a monstrously unfair statement, given that Crawford has been among the best goaltenders in the NHL this season.
You can’t even really say Detroit has an edge when it comes to post-season experience, given that many of Chicago’s core players have won a Stanley Cup while the Red Wings have been gradually giving bigger roles to younger players.
Detroit did beat the second seed Anaheim Ducks and despite the fact that Anaheim was mediocre in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, that was an accomplishment for the Red Wings. But, I don’t see this team being this year’s version of the Los Angeles Kings. I’m going with Chicago in five games.
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Andrew Shaw
Viktor Stalberg-Marcus Kruger-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brent Seabrook-Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford allowed just seven goals in the Blackhawks' five-game series against Minnesota. His .950 save percentage was also one of the best in the first round. Beyond that, it's worth noting that Patrick Sharp netted five goals in the first round after scoring just six goals in 26 regular season contests.
Jonathan Toews is perhaps the closest thing they have to a slumping player and even that's unfair. He had two assists in Game 5, but was scoreless in the first four contests.
Ray Emery (lower body) and Dave Bolland (groin) both missed the entirety of the first round, but should be available for Game 1 of this series.
By advancing past the first round, Chicago has already done better than three of the last four Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Blackhawks are the only team to go through the first round without allowing a single power-play goal.
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Daniel Cleary
Gustav Nyquist-Joakim Andersson-Damien Brunner
Todd Bertuzzi-Cory Emmerton-Mikael Samuelsson
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl-Carlo Colaiacovo
Captain Henrik Zetterberg has been leading the charge for the Red Wings with three goals and eight points in seven games. However, Damien Brunner is perhaps the most pleasant surprise after netting two goals and five points in his first NHL post-season series.
Niklas Kronwall has done a lot to help the Detroit Red Wings in this series, but he hasn't done most fantasy teams any favors. He has just one point and a minus-two rating to go along with six shots on goal. His numbers get more appealing if you value hits (16), blocked shots (15), or minutes per game (25:20).
Detroit will be without Dan DeKeyser, who needed surgery on his broken thumb. Drew Miller (hand) and Darren Helm (back) don't appear to be close to returning.
The last time these two teams faced each other in the playoffs was in 2009 when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the Western Conference Finals. Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup the following year.
The Red Wings couldn't beat Chicago at all in the regular season, but Detroit at least pushed three of those four contests into overtime.