It’s that time of year again: taxes, snappa and playoff hockey. The NHL playoffs are a succession of best-of-seven series matchups. It takes 16 wins to hoist the Stanley Cup. The high seeds get home ice with the games played as follows: home, home, away, away, home, away, and home. With the rules out of the way, here’s the Western Conference playoff picture:

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks

A rematch of last year’s exciting six-game conference semifinal series that the Hawks won en route to their Stanley Cup Championship victory, this series promises to be an exciting one. Both teams boast high-powered offenses capable of dominant performances, but have question marks surrounding their goaltending. The team capable of preventing the most goals will win the series.

Players to Watch

VAN: Roberto Luongo, G – The 32-year-old goaltender has always been considered amongst the league’s elite but has not been able to bring his A-game in his past NHL playoff experience. For all his accomplishments, he’s never made it past the second round.

CHI: Corey Crawford, G – The playoff-untested rookie is expected to man the pipes, but has been shaky at times down the stretch. Don’t be surprised to see veteran Marty Turco, who had a forgettable regular season, thrown into the mix should the youngster falter.


The defending champs push the Canucks to the brink in a seven-game series, but Vancouver will ultimately win out.


(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings

These two California teams will match up for the first time in the playoffs in what’s sure to be a spirited series between two teams that take very different approaches to the game. Butting heads will be the Sharks high-powered offense and the Kings steadfast defense and goaltending. Though the clubs split the season series with three wins each, the Kings will be without leading scorer Anze Kopitar for the playoffs.

Players to Watch

SAN: Joe Pavelski, C – Pavelski is not a star on the Sharks roster, but he came through with a team-leading performance last postseason and will need to contribute if the Sharks big guns get shut down.

LAK: Justin Williams, RW – Williams just rejoined the team in practice after suffering a dislocated shoulder at the end of March. Though he won’t be at 100%, with Kopitar missing from the already-anemic offense, the Kings need someone to take charge.


The Kings will have serious trouble scoring goals. They’ll win a couple games due to stellar goaltending but the Sharks will take the series in six.


(3) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Phoenix Coyotes

Mired in a messy ownership situation, the Coyotes still managed to make the playoffs this year for the second straight season. They face a familiar foe in the Red Wings, who were responsible for eliminating the Coyotes in a hard-fought seven-game series during the first round last year. The Coyotes, who lean on team defense and goaltending, are a good match for the Red Wings, who depend on an aggressive forecheck, quick counterattack, and potent offense.

Players to Watch

DET: Jimmy Howard, G – Howard was anointed as the Wings’ goalie of the future after last year, but he’s been shaky despite winning 37 games this season. Now would be a good time for him to prove that he can capably backstop the Red Wings in the present and future.

PHX: Shane Doan, RW – Doan is the face of the franchise, having been with the team since they moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996. He has 14 seasons with the Coyotes under his belt but has never made it out of the first round in six chances with the team, and will be looking to change that this year.


The team with the 20-straight playoff appearances (Detroit) will win out in a seven-game series. They’ve been here too many times to lose this early.


(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (5) Nashville Predators

The Predators quietly had another solid season while the Ducks fought their way into the playoffs with a dramatic end-of-season run. The Ducks play an uptempo style which banks on their top forwards to create offense. The Predators don’t score many goals, but their cohesive defensive structure rarely allows grade-A scoring chances and they have outstanding goaltending to fall back on.

Players to Watch

ANA: Jonas Hiller, G – Hiller was arguably the Ducks’ MVP this season, but missed most of the end of the regular season with vertigo issues. A healthy Hiller would not only reinforce the Ducks in goal, but also provide a huge emotional boost.

NSH: Pekka Rinne, G – Rinne is the Predators. This team will go as far as he takes them.


With Hiller, the Ducks win in six. Without him, the Predators in seven.


Eastern Conference preview and analysis to come.