April 15, 2014 10:10 am
Updated: April 15, 2014 10:05 am

NHL Western Conference Playoff preview

The Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) attempts to get around the Colorado Avalanche's Jan Hejda as they drive for the puck in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

John Woods / The Canadian Press

The NHL playoffs start Wednesday and there’s no better way to get ready than breaking down the key match-ups in each series and the intriguing storylines waiting to be told.

Colorado vs. Minnesota

Key Match-up: Ryan Suter vs. Everyone

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No player was depended on more than Suter this season, as the blueliner averaged close to 30 minutes a night. His 2412 minutes played were the second most since the NHL started recording time on ice stats in 1998-99. He will need some gas left in the tank for Minnesota to slow down the league’s fourth most productive offense.

Storyline: Can anyone control the shot clock?

Neither the Wild nor the Avalanche were puck-possession teams this season, both allowing the opposition to take roughly 52 per cent of all even-strength shots. That places them closer to bottom feeders like Calgary and Edmonton than contenders like Chicago and Boston.

St. Louis vs. Chicago

Key Match-up: Chicago’s walking wounded vs. St. Louis’ wounded confidence

For a while it looked like the Blues would run away with the President’s trophy, but losing their last six (and scoring only five goals in the process) allowed the Bruins to finish as the league’s best and let Colorado sneak by as first in the West. Now the Blues draw a tough match-up against the Hawks, who hope captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are healthy enough to contribute after sitting out the final stretch of the season.

Storyline: Which is the real Ryan Miller?

Miller was scintillating in his first eight games with the Blues, going 7-0-1 with a .935 save percentage. Since then, however, he’s gone 3-8-0 with a .883 save percentage. The Blues paid a heavy price expecting the initial Miller. If it turns out they bought the other Miller it will be another disappointing playoffs in St. Louis.

Anaheim vs. Dallas

Key Match-up: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry vs. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin

Two of the most productive duos in the league highlight this series. No two teammates scored more than Perry and Getzlaf’s combined 74 goals, but Benn and Seguin came close with 71.

Storyline: Which one of Anaheim’s three goalies will start the series? Will he finish it?

Owners of a top-10 team save percentage, goaltending seemed to be the least of Anaheim’s worries. But neither Jonas Hiller nor Frederick Andersen looked great to close the season, which opened the door for rookie John Gibson, who went 3-0 with a .954 save percentage in three of the final four games.

San Jose vs. Los Angeles

Key Match-up: LA’s dominant centres vs. San Jose’s dominant centres

Championship teams are built down the middle, and few teams have as strong a group of centres as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski. Unfortunately, LA is one of those teams. The series will come down to whether Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jarret Stoll can outplay their San Jose counterparts.

Storyline: Tomas Hertl returning at the right moment

Hertl was leading all rookies in scoring before taking a knee-on-knee hit from LA captain Dustin Brown. His return gives the Sharks an added offensive threat and allows Pavelski to shift down in the lineup creating three lines anchored by No. 1 centres.

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