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PLAYOFFS??? Western Conference Preview and April 30 Live Thread

It's the mooooost wonderful tiiiiiime of the yeeeeaarrrrr

Harry How

Man the playoffs are great. Barely anything gets me so excited. Sure it sucks that our Avs have missed the bus again, no doubt about it, but how great will it be to have NOTHING BUT MEANINGFUL HOCKEY to watch? The playoffs create stories, turn men into heroes (or goats), make Tortorella angry, and give us wonderful Bruins Bear chirps. They bring us the HF Boards Photoshop Threads and Canucks tears. They bring us real endless golden goal overtime and euthanize the shootout for another year. It's Hockey Christmas, except it lasts for two months, and we kick it off tonight.

If you want to join us in the NHL Stanley Cup Bracket Challenge, the Mile High Hockey league is here. And please do, so we can find and ban closet wild/wings fans all compete together! You have until 8:00pm Eastern to get your picks in for the first round. (I'm in as 88mph; if your username is different from your handle on here, please tell us who you are in the comments!)

Who's Best in the West?

No games in the Eastern Conference start until tomorrow, so let's look at the Western Conference matchups.

#1 Chicago Blackhawks v. #8 minnesota wild

Chicago had a really long not-losing-in-regulation streak earlier this year, or something. I don't really remember hearing much about it. Ray Emery put up a HOLY SHIT 17-1-0 record and .922 SV%, but is currently officially day-to-day with a lower body injury according to old friend Coach Q, so the Hawks will be stuck with Corey Crawford, who went 19-5-5 with .926 SV% so easy pickins for the Adjectives wait I'm not entirely sure it works that way. Well I mean this did happen but I'm sure it's nothing to worry about. As for the wild, they spent about a billion dollars on two guys for a century each and backed into the playoffs thanks to a "distinct kicking motion, wink," so well done there.

Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks

Prediction: Unflattering pics of Patrick Kane celebrating with club girls on the bench during game 3 surface. Nobody cares.

#2 Anaheim Ducks vs. #7 detroit red wings Presented By Amway

Anaheim were only a couple of points back of Chicago when the Avs finally beat them in regulation. Nobody noticed for two important reasons. 1) Chicago's run. 2) Anaheim. The Ducks went on to win the division by 7 points and face off with another winged thing, although this one is a wheel and that doesn't make any sense at all because wheels aren't birds, wtf? A lot of people think Anaheim squeaked the end of the season away too, and while there's a hint of truth to that, they finished much stronger than people think. detroit meanwhile has been playing playoff hockey for a few weeks now, only clinching their playoff birth on Saturday with a win over flat and hapless Dallas. I don't want to write about them any more. It makes me mean.

Season Series: 2-1 wings

Prediction: Mike Babcock will be caught in the Anaheim dressing room asking Teemu Selanne for directions to his summertime swimming pool, with a wireless bug attached to the inside of his jacket relaying the conversation to Nicklas Lidstrom.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 San Jose Sharks

Vancouver continued its reign as Washington West by taking the 3rd spot over a terrible division. Cory Schneider is still hurt and Roberto Luongo ended the season by giving up a touchdown to Edmonton. Meanwhile San Jose had possibly the up and downest season ever, starting off very strong and scoring ALL OF THE POWER PLAY GOALS before dipping briefly into the Calgary Zone, only to come back up and land a playoff spot through the force of Brent Burns's beard. Fun Fact: If the playoffs were decided on points and ROW alone, division winners didn't get the top 3 seeds, Vancouver would be behind both of our next contenders in the standings. :D

Season Series: 2-1 Sharks

Prediction: Because every game starts past your bedtime, you don't watch a minute of this series.

#4 St. Louis Blues vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings

I didn't watch many Blues games this year, I'll be honest, but they never play well against the Avs so I'm befuddled how they ended up with home ice. Especially considering their goaltender has been Brian Elliott, a rookie Jake Allen, and a broken Jaroslav Halak, and they added perennial Conn Smythe competitor Jay Bouwmeester. (I'll wait while you reassemble your sarcasm machines.) Meanwhile Los Angeles had a predictable post-Cup slump--maybe because their arms were so tired from carrying the thing around in their opening game ceremony--but have come back on strong on the back of a 19-4-1 home record.

Season Series: St. Louis actually hasn't beaten LA since before the last playoffs.

Prediction: You just realized the detroit/Anaheim prediction was yet another tired Fountain of Youth joke.

Tonight's lineup!

Los Angeles @ St. Louis, Game 1
8:00 Eastern, CNBC, CBC
Jewels from the Crown
St. Louis Game Time

Minnesota @ Chicago, Game 1
8:00 Eastern, NBC Sports, CBC
Second City Hockey
Hockey Wilderness

detroit @ Anahiem, Game 1
10:30 Eastern, NBC Sports, TSN
Winging It in Motown
Anaheim Calling