Here's how USA Today sizes up the Western Conference playoff series:


No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 Minnesota Wild

Story line: The Avalanche (52-22-8) have not won a playoff series since 2008, and the Wild (43-27-12) haven't won one since 2003.

Goaltending: Colorado's Semyon Varlamov (41-14-6, 2.41 goals-against average and .927 save percentage) vs. Minnesota's Ilya Bryzgalov.. (12-9-8, 2.68, .909). Bryzgalov was 7-1-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average after being dealt to Minnesota. Varlamov has a 10-9 record in 19 career playoff decisions.

MORE: Avalanche back in playoffs

Focal point: As a player, Colorado coach Patrick Roy was a memorable performer on the ice and at the podium. Can't wait to hear what he has to say as a playoff coach.

Season series: 4-0-1 Avalanche.

What the Avalanche want do to: 1. Keep the momentum moving forward. They went 8-1-1 down the stretch to pass St. Louis. They overcame the loss of Matt Duchene (knee), who's expected to miss the first round. This is a confident bunch. 2. Get a fast start, an early goal. The Wild lack the Avalanche's firepower. 3. Play tough, aggressive hockey, because that's how goals are scored in the postseason.

What the Wild want to do: 1. Plan on winning every game 2-1. That's how they played all season, isn't it? They have been playing playoff hockey since Oct. 2. Be disciplined. Colorado ranks fifth on the power play. If they primarily play 5-on-5 hockey, the Wild might be the better offensive team. 3. Get a great series from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who were brought in two years ago to be the flag carriers in these situations.

Forecast: The Avalanche don't have much playoff experience. But Roy has more than enough for everyone. The Avs will lean on him to win in six games.

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks

Story line: Both of these supposed superpowers are limping into the playoffs. The Blues (52-23-7) have a six-game losing streak. The Blackhawks (56-21-15) are 5-5 in their last 10.

Goaltending: St. Louis' Ryan Miller (25-30-4, 2.64, .918) vs. Chicago's Corey Crawford (32-16-10, 2.26, .917). This playoff run is even more important than usual for Miller because he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. A strong run makes him more desirable in the marketplace.

MORE: Miller need to play better

Focal point: Chicago's Patrick Kane (out since March 19) and Jonathan Toews (out since March 30) say they will be ready. How rusty will they be?

Season series: 3-2 St. Louis, though Chicago won the last two.

What the Blues want to do: 1. Find their rhythm, regain their confidence, which seemed to vanish late in the season. 2. Play tough, physical, gritty hockey. The Blackhawks can deal with hitting, but it's not their game. 3. Miller has to be better than Crawford. He has not been impressive recently.

What the Blackhawks want to do: 1. Remember they are the champions and have won twice in four seasons. 2. Push the tempo. They are the best transition team in the NHL. 3. Make St. Louis pay on the power play.

Forecast: The drive for Chicago's third Stanley Cup championship in five years starts with a six-game series win against St. Louis.


No. 1 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 4 Dallas Stars

Story line: The Ducks (54-20-8) are trying to help Teemu Selanne win one more Stanley Cup before he retires. The Stars (40-31-11) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Goaltending: Anaheim's TBA vs. Dallas' Kari Lehtonen (33-20-10, 2.36, .920). Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau hasn't indicated if Jonas Hiller, Fredrik Andersen or John Gibson will start. It probably won't be Hiller, who last played April 8 and hasn't been sharp since mid-March. Lehtonen is 30 but has only two games of NHL playoff experience.

Focal point: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry might have better chemistry than any center-wing combination in the game, ranking second and fifth in NHL scoring.

Season series: 2-1 Dallas

What the Ducks want to do: 1. Don't let Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin beat them. They have more than 30% of Dallas' goals. 2. Improve in the faceoff circle. They were under 50% this season. 3. Ride their depth. They have better secondary scoring with Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey.

What the Stars want to do: 1. Tighten up defensively because the Ducks are the NHL's best offensive team. That means limiting second-chance shots and blocking shots. 2. Lehtonen has to be the Stars' best player. 3. Get goals on the power play. They rank 24th in power-play percentage. You aren't going to beat Anaheim 5-on-5.

MORE: Final team power rankings

Forecast: The Stars are aligned to give the NHL its most significant first-round upset. Take Dallas in seven games.

No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Kings

Story line: The Sharks (51-22-9) are trying to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the Kings (46-28-8) are trying to rediscover the magic they had during their 2012 Cup run.

Goaltending: San Jose's Antti Niemi (39-17-7, 2.39, .913) vs. Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick (27-17-4, 2.07, .915). Both have Stanley Cup rings, but Quick's playoff numbers are better.

Focal point: Sharks C Joe Thornton, 34, the best playmaker in the series, is seeking his first Cup.

Season series: 3-2 Kings.

What the Sharks want to do: 1. Put emphasis on scoring first. The Sharks are 36-5 when scoring first, and the Kings don't have a good come-from-behind offense. 2. Get hot on the power play. With the skill the Sharks have up front with Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, they should be more proficient. 3. Get traffic to the net. You don't conquer Quick without major disturbances in front.

MORE: Kings, Sharks renew rivalry

What the Kings want to do: 1. Score goals. That's this team's only real challenge. They ranked 26th in scoring. 2. Get a strong series from Marian Gaborik, who has five goals and 16 points in 19 games since arriving in a trade. 3. Play like they know how. This is a big, tough, physical team that can make life miserable for opponents. They are built to play in the postseason.

Forecast: It's a Quick trip for the Sharks. He dons his invincibility cloak and helps the Kings down San Jose in six games.

And now... for the East;


No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 4 Detroit Red Wings

Story line: The Bruins (54-19-9) and Red Wings (39-28-5) are meeting for the first time in 57 years. The Red Wings are making their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance and the Presidents' Trophy winning-Bruins should be viewed as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Goaltending: Boston's Tuukka Rask (36-15-6, 2.04 goals-against average, .930 save percentage) vs. Detroit's Jimmy Howard (21-19-11), 2.66 .910). Rask is a likely Vezina Trophy winner and Howard had an average season.

Season series: 3-1 Red Wings.

MORE: Western Conference preview

Focal point: Boston D Zdeno Chara, because of his 6-9 size and talent, can affect a playoff series more than any non-goalie.

What the Bruins want to do: 1. Pound away with their top line. Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla combined for 189 points and 457 hits. 2. Stay out of the penalty box. The top-ranked Bruins were superior in 5-on-5 play. 3. Don't let Detroit's Gustav Nyquist out of the barn. He can gallop when he gets loose.

What the Red Wings want to do: 1. Play their best defensive hockey. They won't win without exceptional goaltending and defensive play. 2. Be relentless on penalty killing and strong in the faceoff circle. Boston will be good in both areas. 3. Have the kids grow up quickly. Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Nyquist and Dan DeKeyser must play like veterans.

Forecast: This series is closer than the teams' seeds. Take the Bruins to survive in seven games.

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 3 Montreal Canadiens

Story line: Tampa Bay (46-27-9) has been the East's most improved team, and the Canadiens (46-28-8) are a playoff dark horse.

Goaltending: Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop (37-14-7, 2.23, .924) vs. Montreal's Carey Price (34-20-5, 2.32, .927). Anders Lindback will start Game 1 because Bishop is hurt.

MORE: Ben Bishop remains out

Focal point: Deadline-day acquisition Thomas Vanek (15 points in 19 games) has been as dangerous as the Canadiens hoped.

Season series: 3-1 Lightning.

What the Lightning want to do: 1. Shoot the puck quickly and use pump fakes because Montreal is the top shot-blocking team. 2. Limit mistakes. This will be a low-scoring series. 3. Win the center battle. Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula must be better than Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais.

What the Canadiens want to do: 1. Get a lead. Montreal was 35-0-3 when ahead after two periods, and the Lightning were 4-15-1 when they trailed after one; 2. Re-ignite the power play. It's in a 0-for-23 slump. 3. Re-ignite defenseman P.K. Subban. He didn't score in his last 19 games, and his defensive play was weak. He can be a difference-maker when he is at his best.

Forecast: Price picked up overflowing confidence leading Canada to a gold medal in Sochi. Take Montreal to win in six games and become the X-factor of the playoffs.

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