Chicago was the NHL’s best team during the shortened regular season and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy, but they have to be careful of a first-round exit as they lead the Western Conference into the NHL betting postseason.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
Odds: Blackhawks -380
The ‘Hawks are talented, deep and they’re still led by a number of players who were on the Stanley Cup-winning team of three years ago. The biggest question comes in goal, where Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have to stand up for their teammates.
The Wild spent a ton of money in the offseason and barely got into the playoffs, struggling down the stretch. Still, they have a lot of playoff experience and can play a defensive system that can frustrate the best teams. They lost two of three against Chicago in the regular season, and the Wild will have to deal with the ‘Hawks’ depth to stage an upset.
Pick: Blackhawks in 5
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Odds: Ducks -140
Quietly, the Ducks roared to the second spot in the West and even though you’ll go to names like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan for their success, goaltending has been the story for Anaheim. Jonas Hiller has been pushed by Viktor Fasth all season and the Ducks have benefitted from this.
The Red Wings finished seventh and they looked lost at times without Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired and Detroit’s defense suffered. The onus will be on Pavel Datsyk and Henrik Zetterberg to lead this team past the first round. Detroit won two of three regular-season meetings with Anaheim this season.
Pick: Ducks in 7
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Odds: Canucks -130
The Canucks won the Northwest and they still have a deep team, but the spotlight will remain on goaltending as Corey Schneider heads into the postseason as the #1 guy, but Roberto Luongo obviously has more experience and has played well this year when called upon. Will this situation finally be a distraction in Vancouver?
The Sharks haven’t been known for postseason success in recent years, but this could be good for them as they’re flying under the radar and there isn’t a lot of pressure on them this season. goalie Antti Niemi (who helped Chicago to the Cup three years ago) will be the key for San Jose, who won all three meetings with Vancouver during the regular season.
Pick: Sharks in 6
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
Odds: Kings -120
The Kings begin their Cup defense as the fifth seed, but after winning last year as a #8 seed, they won’t be afraid of anyone. They’ve dominated the Blues, winning nine of the last 10 meetings, including a sweep in last year’s playoffs and this past regular season. Don’t sleep on the Kings, whatever you do.
If the Blues can get a couple past L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick, they can put some doubt into the Kings’ heads. Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak can steal the show from Quick, and St. Louis is a physical team that can wear on you. This could be the best first-round series on the betting lines in either conference.
Pick: Blues in 6