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How West will be won: NHL Playoffs begin tonight on other side of North America

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks Credit: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks (Getty Images)

Back in September, postseason hockey wasn’t a guarantee. But after a late start and a 48-game schedule, 16 teams are left to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Rangers and Islanders are among them, but none of the Eastern Conference first-round series begin until Wednesday. Three series begin in the Western Conference Tuesday night. Here’s our take:

No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks
(36-7-5, 77 pts) vs.
No. 8 Minnesota Wild
(26-19-3, 55 pts)
Season series: Chicago, 2-0-1
The Blackhawks “fell off” from their amazing 21-0-3 start, but a seven-game win streak in April showed they can still get hot. Minnesota is the only playoff team with a negative goal differential. Even with goaltender Ray Emery out for at least Game 1, right winger Patrick Kane will lead high-scoring Chicago’s attack and put away the Wild in four games.

No. 2 Anaheim Ducks
(30-12-6, 66 pts) vs.
No. 7 Detroit Red Wings
(24-16-8, 56 pts)
Season series: Detroit, 2-1-0
Anaheim struggled late in the year, finishing 8-9-2 over the last 1 1/2 months. The Ducks will need to get it together against a Red Wings team that won its last four games. Both goaltenders — Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Viktor Fasth of Anaheim — have been solid in net, and this could turn into a grueling series. It may go seven games, but the Red Wings will advance one way or another.

No. 3 Vancouver Canucks
(26-15-7, 59 pts) vs.
No. 6 San Jose Sharks
(25-16-7, 57 pts)
Season series: San Jose, 3-0-0
The series opens in Vancouver, but San Jose has to be considered the favorite in this matchup. Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider is battling an unknown ailment and his availability is up in the air. Without him, the deck is stacked in the Sharks’ favor. Vancouver might win one at home, but expect the Sharks to make this a short series and win in five.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues
(29-17-2, 60 pts) vs.
No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
(27-16-5, 59 pts)
Season series: Los Angeles, 3-0-0
The defending Stanley Cup champions have a much better seed this year — they were the No. 8 seed a year ago — but will still start on the road against red-hot St. Louis. Even though the Blues failed to win in three matchups against Los Angeles this season, they went 12-3-0 since closing March with a loss to the Kings. Brian Elliott will stay strong in net for St. Louis as they move on in seven games.

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