The 2013 NHL playoffs are finally upon us.
Tuesday, April 30 marks the first night of postseason action for the NHL, with three series kicking things off.
Beginning at 8 p.m. EST, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks will host the eighth-seeded Minnesota Wild, while the St. Louis Blues will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
At 10:30 p.m. EST, the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings will have their first tilt from southern California.
Tuesday night is all about the Western Conference. Let's take a look at which teams will start their playoff campaigns off on the right foot.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
When the Minnesota Wild went out and inked the two biggest names on the free-agent market in the offseason in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they instantly became a contender in the West and a favorite to compete for the Northwest Division championship in 2013.
For much of the season, the Wild were in the thick of things, vying for the division title against the always-tough Vancouver Canucks.
The fact that they limped into the postseason, finishing the season 4-5-1 in their final 10 games, saw them slip to eighth in the West and facing a daunting matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks.
While there is no doubt that the Wild have a talented roster, their 12-11-1 record away from home this season leaves a lot to be desired.
The lack of production from guys like Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley doesn't help them either, leaving the Wild at a major disadvantage when it comes to matching Chicago's depth on offense.
When you take Minnesota's aforementioned road record, Chicago's home record of 18-3-3 and the Wild's recent struggles from some of their key contributors, all signs point to the Blackhawks taking Game 1 in front of a raucous home crowd.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks 4, Minnesota Wild 1
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
In what is a rematch of last season's Western Conference semifinals, the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings will hook up in this year's first round.
The Blues, who were swept at the hands of the Kings in the 2012 playoffs, will be looking to exact revenge on the defending champs and win at least one series for the second consecutive season.
As for the Kings, expectations are high as the defending champions are expected to make another deep run in 2013.
I doubt that this series will be finished as quickly as last season's matchup, but don't expect the Blues to open up with a win in Game 1.
Both teams use multiple lines up front to score, with the Kings having five different players score 10 or more goals and the Blues with nine players to score at least 20 points.
But as Sean Leahy of Yahoo Sports points out, some St. Louis' top regular season performers haven't exactly been lighting up their opposition of late:
Chris Stewart has only scored three times in 19 games. Patrik Berglund three times in 20 games. And David Perron's put up just one goal in 20 games.
Because of their incredible defensive core, reliable netminders and a coach who loves to play a hard-nosed defensive game in Ken Hitchcock, the Blues didn't need a bundle of goals to finish the season 7-3-0 through their final 10 contests. After all, this is a team that allows just 2.38 goals per game.
Unfortunately for the Blues, Los Angeles also has an incredibly stingy defense, allowing 2.38 goals per game themselves.
Despite Los Angeles' less-than-stellar 8-12-4 road record, they did manage to sweep the season series against the Blues by a combined score of 14-7, with at least four goals in all three head-to-head tilts.
Expect the Kings to open their 2013 postseason on the right note with a road victory against the Blues.
Prediction: Los Angeles Kings 3, St. Louis Blues 1
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
The shortened 2013 NHL season almost saw one of the greatest streaks in professional sports come to an end.
The Detroit Red Wings narrowly edged out the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final week of the season to capture one of the final two Western Conference playoff spots by picking up points in eight of their final 10 contests.
This helped preserve their now 22-year playoff streak.
The opening round of the 2013 postseason will see the Red Wings taking on the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks, who had a remarkable rebound season, after missing the playoffs in 2012.
While the boys from Hockeytown may make this a competitive series, don't look for them to win the series opener.
First and foremost, the Detroit is sure to be a little more fatigued than the Ducks after having to expend every last bit of energy just to qualify for the second season.
Secondly, this Ducks team is just too much to handle up front for the Wings.
With the likes of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu all being solid producers for the Ducks, a lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of recently re-signed netminder Jimmy Howard.
With the Red Wings possessing a fair amount of talent and great leadership in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, this series should be a close one.
Game 1, however, goes to the Anaheim Ducks.
Prediction: Anaheim Ducks 5, Detroit Red Wings 2
How do you think Tuesday's playoff action will turn out? Let us know in the comments section below.
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