Opening round of the NHL Playoffs The Vista previews the Western Conference matchups

By Henry Kittle

Only the strong survive in the NHL Playoffs. The level of physicality is unparalleled by other professional sports. Hockey is played on the least forgiving surface known to man and each athlete is equipped with large wooden sticks in hand and curved blades on their feet. Bare knuckle boxing matches are an accepted, respected, and at times encouraged part of the game. Players will happily lose a tooth or two if it means increasing the chance of winning. Simply put, once the puck is dropped, no one safe.
On May 6, the second week of the NHL Playoffs began with teams fighting hard to prove they are serious contenders for the coveted Stanley Cup. Here’s a preview of what’s going on in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Minnesota Wild (8)
The Blackhawks seized the President’s Trophy for most points by an NHL team this season and are highly favored in this offensively-loaded matchup. In their first 24 games of the season, the Blackhawks were able to acquire at least one point, crushing the previous record of 16 games set by Anaheim in the 2006-2007 season. Chicago is led by Patrick Kane on the wing who racked up 23 goals and 55 points total in the regular season and captain Jonathan Toews in the center who also boasts 23 goals along with 48 points. But, in hockey, anything can happen, so the Wild should not be counted out, especially when playing at home.

Anaheim Ducks (2) v Detroit Red Wings (7)
The Red Wings are heading into this series with momentum, winning their last four regular season games to give them an opportunity in playoffs. The Ducks, on the other hand, were rather sluggish in games leading up to the playoffs, going 8-9-2 in the last 19 games overall. But, Anaheim secured the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference early, which may be responsible for a reduced sense of urgency on the ice. They still have a potent offense and an elite goaltending duo with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. The Red Wings will need to bring everything together to stop coach Bruce Boudreau and his mighty ducks.

Vancouver Canucks (3) v San Jose Sharks (6)
The Canucks are looking strong as the Northwest Division champions, finishing the year with a 26-15-7 record. Vancouver has had only two consecutive losses since March 10 and have won 10 of 12 games between March 19th and April 10. The Canucks are no strangers to the playoffs and have made six postseason appearances in the last seven years led by head coach Alain Vigneault. The Sharks placed third in the Pacific Division with a less than stellar record of 25-16-7. Winning their first seven games of the season straight and then losing in the next seven, the Sharks are unpredictable. Recently, however, they have shown some resemblance to a championship-caliber squad.

St. Louis Blues (4) v Los Angeles Kings (5)
The Blues were one of the strongest teams in the NHL early in the year starting with 6-1 record. However, injuries to impact players Jaroslav Halak and Vladimir Tarasenko hindered their offensive ability and led to a midseason crisis. The acquisition of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester seemed to solve the problem as the Blues went on to go 12-3 in the month of April. The Kings are the defending Stanley Cup Champions and will not go down without a fight. Losing defenseman Matt Greene to a back injury early in the season was a major blow to the squad but the Kings were still one of the most productive offenses in the league.