Plenty of contenders vying for Stanley Cup in NHL’s Western Conference

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But Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, whose team will face the No. 6 San Jose Sharks, thinks the description fits. “If we play (Chicago or L.A.) in the conference final or something like that, then maybe we’re going to be underdogs,” said Sedin. “I think, in the first round, (prognosticators) are still going to talk about us as favourites. We know it’s a tough conference. You could have 10, 11 teams in this conference winning the whole thing, but there are only eight of us who can make it, and they’re all really good teams.” Sedin added that while the Canucks might be viewed differently in other cities, the club still faces high expectations at home. “In Vancouver, people still look at us as having a shot at it,” said Sedin. The expectations are particularly high in Vancouver’s dressing room, even though they fell well short of a third consecutive Presidents’ Trophy title. “Those expectations have been there for the last few years, and they’re not going to change this year,” said winger Alex Burrows. “We’re healthy compared to last year. We’ve got guys that are coming back here (from injuries.) So, hopefully, we’ll be having a really good run in the spring.” Goaltender Cory Schneider status has been the biggest health-related question in Vancouver, but he returned to practice Monday after missing a week with an undisclosed ailment. source:

Blackhawks, Penguins top NHL playoff seeds

James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring during their game against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 27, 2013. Pittsburgh

A campaign that began with acrimony over financial issues was revived by a Chicago team that set an NHL record by producing standings points in its first 24 games, going 21-0-3 before suffering a defeat in regulation-time. Pittsburgh followed in March with a 15-game win streak, matching the second-longest victory run in NHL history, two shy of the league record the Penguins set in the 1992-93 season. A four-month lockout over money issues was finally settled between players and club owners with a new collective bargaining agreement in January, but not before the season was reduced from 82 to 48 games per team. As a result, the 2013 campaign was an intense 100-day charge to set up a full 16-team post-season that starts about three weeks later than normal, with a champion to be crowned in late June. In the Western Conference first round, top seed Chicago will face Minnesota, second seed Anaheim will face Detroit, third seed Vancouver will meet San Jose and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles will play fourth seed St. Louis. In the Eastern Conference first round, top seed Pittsburgh will meet the New York Islanders, second seed Montreal will play Ottawa, third seed Washington will face the New York Rangers and fourth seed Boston will play Toronto. Chicago, sparked by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, began the season 21-0-3 before suffering a regulation-time loss and the Blackhawks went on to finish with a NHL-low seven regulation defeats. Minnesota slumped in the final month of the season and the Wild were the last team to clinch a playoff berth, winning their final game to sneak inside the line. Minnesota lost two of three regular-season games against Chicago. Anaheim, powered by 15 goals from Ryan Getzlaf, started strong but will be tested by a Detroit side that beat them twice in three meetings, although the Red Wings, sparked by 15-goal scorer Pavel Datsyuk, were pushed to reach the playoffs for the 22nd year in a row. source:

Wild vs. Blackhawks: Series Preview

If you put their numbers together it would be worthy of consideration for the Vezina Trophy, but neither started 30 games because Quenneville couldn’t let the other hot goalie sit for too long. The beauty of the Crawford/Emery pairing is neither feels he has to be spectacular for Chicago to win; each gives the team a chance every night. But only one of them can start in the playoffs. Emery has been banged up with a lower-body injury, so Crawford likely will get the nod for Game 1. However, if Emery is healthy and Crawford stumbles, don’t be shocked if Quenneville makes a quick change, a la Mike Babcock in 2008, when the Red Wings coach switched from Dominik Hasek to Chris Osgood and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Minnesota: If nothing else, Backstrom has proven to be one of the NHL’s most consistent keepers. He finished tied for the League lead in wins (24) this season and started 30 of Minnesota’s last 32 games. He appeared in 40-plus games for the seventh straight season and notched his highest win total since 2009-10. In 11 career playoff games, though, Backstrom is 3-8 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. If Backstrom, 35, should go down with an injury, the Wild would be in trouble. Darcy Kuemper played in six games this season, and Josh Harding was recalled from the American Hockey League on April 22 after going 1-1-0 on his rehab assignment. He played in four games for the Wild this season before suffering from symptoms related to multiple sclerosis. source:|MIN|home


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