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NHL Western Conference Preview Capsules
Capsules of NHL Western Conference first-round series:
No. 1 VANCOUVER CANUCKS (54-19-9) vs. No. 8 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (44-29-9).
2009-10 series record: Vancouver 2-1-1.
Playoff History: Chicago 3-1. Last meeting: Chicago 4-2 in 2010 conference semifinals.
VANCOUVER: The Canucks carry a team-record 117 points and the club's first Presidents' Trophy win into a postseason they hope ends with their first Stanley Cup championship. ... Unlike any other duo in the NHL, the Canucks are led on offense by high-powered twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Daniel followed Henrik's league scoring title from last season with his own, posting 104 points _ including 41 goals. He was set up often by Henrik, who had 75 assists and finished fourth in scoring with 94 points. They are the first set of brothers to win consecutive scoring championships. ... Ryan Kesler was the other offensive force with 41 goals and 73 points. ... If the Canucks don't beat you with offense, they can get you with defense. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider combined to allow an NHL-low 185 goals. Luongo could be in position to add the Stanley Cup to the Olympic gold medal he won on home ice last year during the Vancouver Games. He was 38-15-7 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 60 games. The defense could be hurt by the loss of two-way forward Manny Malhotra, who is out for the playoffs because of a serious eye injury. ... Gritty LW Raffi Torres will miss the first two games of the series as he finishes serving a suspension. On defense, Alex Edler is back from injury along with Sami Salo. Dan Hamhuis (concussion) hopes to return soon. ... Vancouver will be looking to get back at the Blackhawks, who knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs each of the past two years _ both times in the second round. ... The Canucks finished first in power-play efficiency and in a second-place tie in penalty-killing.
CHICAGO: The defending Stanley Cup champions nearly missed the postseason party altogether, but got a second chance after their regular-season ending loss when Dallas was beaten by Minnesota. ... The biggest question for Chicago, as it was last year, is will the Blackhawks have good enough goaltending to make a deep run. Antti Niemi backstopped the Blackhawks to the title, but now he is with the San Jose Sharks. Corey Crawford, in his first full NHL season, went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average in 57 games this season. Veteran Marty Turco will provide valuable insurance as the backup. However, he hasn't started since Feb. 11. ... Crawford made 27 straight starts to finish the season and won 16, with two shutouts and four games giving up only one goal. ... As was the case last season, captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp lead the offense. Kane will likely head up the second line. That foursome combined for 118 goals and 277 points this season. Sharp is working his way back to full strength following a knee injury.
OUTLOOK: Blackhawks title defense ends early. Canucks in 5.
No. 2 SAN JOSE SHARKS (48-25-9) vs. No. 7 LOS ANGELES KINGS (46-30-6).
2009-10 series record: San Jose 3-1-2.
Playoff History: First meeting.
SAN JOSE: The Sharks are again a popular pick to reach the finals and maybe win the Stanley Cup, two things they have never done. ... San Jose was sixth in the NHL with 248 goals and recorded a league-best 34 1/2 shots per game. ... Antti Niemi had an impressive first season with the Sharks after backstopping the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning run last year. Niemi made everyone forget Evgeni Nabokov by going 35-18-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 60 games. ... Logan Couture will be a player to watch after a rookie campaign of 32 goals and 56 points in 79 games. That was good for sixth on the team in scoring behind such offensive stalwarts as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley. Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe joined that potent trio by also having 60-point seasons. Couture had four goals in 15 playoff games with the Sharks last year.
LOS ANGELES: The loss of injured forwards Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams severely hurt the Kings' hopes of moving on in the playoffs. Williams, Los Angeles' second-leading scorer, practiced Tuesday and is trying to make a quick return from a separated shoulder. Kopitar is done for the season with an ankle injury. ... Captain Dustin Brown, veteran forward Ryan Smyth, and others such as Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds will be looked upon to provide offense. Trevor Lewis might get time on the top line in Kopitar's place. ... The Kings should be bolstered by an excited home crowd for just the third all-California playoff matchup. ... Jonathan Quick is one of the rising stars among NHL goalies and will probably have to steal at least a game or two if the Kings are going to threaten the Sharks. Quick went 35-22-3 with a 2.24 GAA in 61 games.
OUTLOOK: Beat-up Kings don't give Sharks enough of a fight. Sharks in 5.
No. 3 DETROIT RED WINGS (47-25-10) vs. No. 6 PHOENIX COYOTES (43-26-13).
2009-10 series record: Detroit 2-1-1 (one win in overtime).
Playoff History: Detroit 3-0. Last meeting: Detroit 4-3 in 2010 conference quarterfinals.
DETROIT: The always-present championship hopes are already tempered because of the injury to leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, who is out for at least Game 1 because of a knee injury. Zetterberg, who had 24 goals and 80 points, missed the final two games of the regular season and is questionable at best for Game 2 of this series. Center Pavel Datsyuk is healthy and can be counted on to pick up the slack. Nicklas Lidstrom anchors the defense, and looks as strong as ever as he approaches age 41 later this month. In his 19th NHL season, Lidstrom had 16 goals and 62 points _ his highest total since the 2007-08 season _ and played in all 82 games. ... The Red Wings hope to dispatch the Coyotes in easier fashion than last spring, and will count on Jimmy Howard to get them through. Howard was 37-17-5 with a 2.79 GAA in 63 games this season. Howard went 5-7 last year in the playoffs when Detroit lost in the second round to San Jose. ... Detroit avoided the 4 vs. 5 matchup this year by winning the Central Division title after the Red Wings' nine-season streak was broken in 2010.
PHOENIX: The Coyotes will have to try to win this one with defense. Phoenix averaged 2.76 goals per game and captain Shane Doan led the club with 20 goals and 60 points. They do have balanced scoring, however, as the Coyotes have eight forwards with at least 15 goals. ... Phoenix is solid on defense with Keith Yandle, who was third in scoring among blue-liners with 59 points. Ed Jovanovski should also settle things down on the defensive side, having recently returned from broken orbital bones. ... Ilya Bryzgalov also gives the Coyotes their best chance at an upset. He was 36-20-10 with a 2.48 goals-against average and finished among the top 10 in wins, saves and shutouts (seven). ... Penalties could be especially costly for the Coyotes for two reasons. Phoenix killed them at a rate of only 78 percent, the fifth-worst mark in the NHL. Detroit's power play connected 22.3 percent of the time, fifth-best in the league.
OUTLOOK: Detroit dispatches desert dwellers again. Red Wings in 6.
No. 4 ANAHEIM DUCKS (47-30-5) vs. No. 5 NASHVILLE PREDATORS (44-27-11).
2009-10 series record: Nashville 3-1.
Playoff History: First meeting.
ANAHEIM: The third of California's three playoff teams this season looks to make the most noise. Anaheim is the only one of the three with a Stanley Cup title, but that memory from 2007 is becoming more distant. ... Teemu Selanne seems much younger than his nearly 41 years after he finished second on the team in scoring to Corey Perry with 80 points _ including 39 goals. Perry, however, is the one who will draw most of the attention after he busted out with an NHL-best 50 goals in a 98-point season. Half of Perry's goals either tied the game or put Anaheim ahead. Not to be forgotten are Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, who both had more than 70 points while playing on a line with Perry. Ryan was second on the club with 34 goals. ... Anaheim held the tiebreaker over Nashville to earn home-ice advantage after both teams had 99 points. The difference was the Ducks had more non-shootout victories. ... Jonas Hiller will be the No. 1 goalie assuming he is totally over the vertigo that sidelined him for much of the second half after he was a first-half All-Star. Well-traveled Ray Emery filled in well, but he was injured in the final days of the regular season. Dan Ellis entered the mix after he was acquired from Tampa Bay in February for fellow goalie Curtis McElhinney, who failed when given the chance to fill in for Hiller.
NASHVILLE: While Anaheim does it with offense, the Predators thrive on defense and Pekka Rinne's fine goaltending. Rinne was second to Boston's Tim Thomas in GAA (2.12) and save percentage (.930) and won 33 of his 64 appearances. This sets up an intriguing matchup that rivals great batter-pitcher matchups in baseball. ... Nashville's offense was paced by Sergei Kostitsyn, who had a team-high 23 goals and tied Martin Erat for the club lead of 50 points. Stalwart defenseman Shea Weber was tied for fourth in points with Patric Hornqvist at 48, and was second to Hornqvist in shots taken (265-254). ... Center Mike Fisher will look to have playoff success in his first visit as a Western Conference player after seven trips to the East playoffs with Ottawa _ including a trip to the 2007 finals against Anaheim. The in-season acquisition was key for the Predators, who put Fisher on the top line with Hornqvist and Kostitsyn. ... LW Steve Sullivan was limited to 44 games because of a groin injury, but is back and will provide a veteran presence. Erat (back) skated Monday and should play, and C Cal O'Reilly hopes to return after being out since he broke a leg on Jan. 2.
OUTLOOK: As good as Rinne is, Anaheim gets the best of him and the Preds. Ducks in 7.
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
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