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The 2013 NHL playoffs have begun, and the Canadiens will begin the quest for their 25th Stanley Cup on Thursday versus Ottawa. 
The first set of Western Conference matchups have been reviewed by our writers, and their comments and predictions are below. Bragging rights are on the line in HabsWorld with a point system in place for accurately predicting the winners and the correct number of games.

Western Conference

Chicago vs Minnesota

Tale of the Tape: Chicago won the 2nd and 3rd matches, 1-0 & 5-3; Minnesota’s won their first match 3-2.

Matt Gauthier predicts: Chicago in 4
Brian La Rose predicts: Chicago in 5
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Chicago in 5
Alex Létourneau predicts: Chicago in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Chicago in 5

(Brian) On paper, the Wild shouldn’t be the #8 seed but a terrible finish to the season has them in this unenviable position. The Hawks are loaded up front and on the blueline while their lone Achilles Heel in past years, goaltending, was a strength for them all year long. Goaltending had been a strength for the Wild in past years but Niklas Backstrom really faltered down the stretch. Minnesota has the top end firepower to combat Chicago but that alone isn’t enough to give them a ton of hope here.

(Jonathan) I just don’t think that the Wild can contain the Blackhawks; don’t really need to go in depth.

(Alex) Chicago started off hot and never really let up. Only question mark might be goaltending as I don’t have complete faith in Corey Crawford just yet. He is capable of stealing games but it’s still a bit of a roller coaster for him. Ray Emery is a question mark due to a lower body injury so if Crawford gets lit up, not really sure what Carter Hutton can do. Negativity aside, this Chicago team is silly good and with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews playing at the level they’re at, along with a strong defensive corps, this shouldn’t be too stern a test. Minnesota was a last minute participant and while they do have a solid team, I don’t see them making too much noise. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu need to play lights out to stand a chance. Niklas Backstrom will have to stand on his head but the one or two games he’s able to steal won’t be enough. Chicago should get through this matchup relatively unscathed.

(Norm) According to most hockey experts, Chicago is the most likely team to come out of the Western conference given their league best record of 36-7-5, setting a league record 24 games registering at least a point. They tied for the most home points [39] in the league, and were second with home wins [18]. Their depth is impressive, including veterans Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Currently Chicago have only a couple of day-to-day injuries [forward Dave Bolland & goalie Ray Emery]. The Wild have lost forwards Dany Heatley for the reat of the season and Jason Pominville is day-to-day, but they still boast the veteran presence of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Minnesota managed to narrowly gain entry to the playoffs on the last day of the season. However, they hold the edge in goal with Niklas Backstrom, who tied for the most wins in the league [24].

Anaheim vs Detroit

Tale of the Tape: Anaheim won the 1st match 5-2; Detroit won the second and third games, 5-1 & 2-1.

Matt Gauthier predicts: Anaheim in 6
Brian La Rose predicts: Anaheim in 6
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Anaheim in 7
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Anaheim in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Detroit in 7

(Brian) Detroit is coming into the postseason on a bit of a hot streak; that coupled with their long history of playoff success has many analysts thinking they’ll win. I’m not convinced of that although it’s far from an easy series. Yes, the Ducks were quieter in the second half of the year but they didn’t have much of anything to play for in several weeks. The goaltending is more or less a wash here, a lot will come down to whether or not veterans like Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have enough left in the tank to provide the secondary scoring they did in the first half of the year. I think they can do that so I give the edge here.

(Jonathan) This should be a fun series as both teams have some very highly skilled scoring players. And if you Habs fans can believe it Sheldon Souray the +/- leader for NHL defenseman! I think this series will go back and forth and they will trade wins down to the end.

(Alex) Who would’ve thought Anaheim would be where they are. The vets turned back time, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have been lethal and they were buoyed during a time of need by Viktor Fasth(who?) when Jonas Hiller was floundering. This is a good hockey team, Getzlaf and Perry have done this before and I can see Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu giving it their all as this could be the last hurrah for both. In Montreal, we’ve seen the latter turn it up during the second season. As for Detroit, well, it’s Detroit. The Red Wings are always dangerous and they’ve looked good in the last few weeks while facing a potential playoff miss. Jimmy Howard has the tools to upset. After over 20 consecutive years of making it to the dance, you can never write this franchise off. That being said, I think Anaheim has enough to dispatch this team, going the distance to do it.

(Norm) Anaheim had the third best record in the NHL [66 points], with both offensive pop thanks to top 20 scorer Ryan Getzlaf and forwards Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Andrew Cogliano and Saku Koivu. Despite their offensive depth, their scoring can sometimes be streaky. On defence, they are lead by veterans Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray, with youngster Cam Flowler providing some offence. Their goaltending is a solid duo of Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. Meanwhile Detroit struggled to make it to the postseason, but played up to expectations down the stretch winning their last 4 games to continue their franchise record of 22 straight appearances. Veterans forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Valeri Filpulla and Henrik Zetterberg are always a threat to score, and have ample playoff experience. Their depth at foward is a decent mix of veterans and youngsters. Detroit’s goaltending is solid with Jimmy Howard, and their defence is above average. This match should be an interesting one since Anaheim is more of a skilled team, than a physical one. Detroit has been defeated the past three playoffs by bigger, tougher teams, so they match up well against the Ducks. The playoff experience factor favours the Wings, but this will be a close match.

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

Tale of the Tape: St. Louis won the 1st match, 4-1 and LA won twice, 6-4 & 4-2.

Matt Gauthier predicts: Los Angeles in 6
Brian La Rose predicts: St. Louis in 6
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: St. Louis in 6
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Los Angeles in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Los Angeles in 6

(Brian) Like the 4-5 matchup in the East, this is a must-see series. Both teams are built for playoff hockey and the checking will be tight. St. Louis was one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch and I expect that momentum will continue. However, it’s hard to pick against a Kings team who won it all last year and returned their core this season as well. My one concern with Los Angeles though is their lack of road success – they struggled away from home this year while St. Louis’ record was nearly identical home and away. That will play a role here so I have to give the edge to the Blues.

(Jonathan) I believe other than Chicago St. Louis is the team to beat in the West barring injuries to their defense squad they will be difficult to beat in 7 games. Although the big Kings forwards are a lot to handle I believe the system the Blues play and their depth on the back end will ease the pressure allowing whomever is in nets for the Blues to make lots of easy saves.

(Alex) Unfortunately it’s in writing from last year; I did not back Jonathan Quick until the Stanley Cup final. I will not make the same mistake again. St. Louis to me is a very good defensive team with very little offensive upside. That is a problem when facing a Los Angeles Kings team that has the ability to open the faucet and punish you. Brian Elliot was sparkling at the end of the season but I don’t see him translating that into playoff success. Even if Jaroslav Halak comes back, or Jake Allen is called upon, I see L.A. taking this one. Last year they strolled into St. Louis and walked out with two wins. I don’t see a sweep like last year but I expect L.A. to control this series.

(Norm) The fourth place Blues are a bonafide playoff contender this season, but they will have their hands full with the defending Kings. St. Louis ended the short season with one of the hottest goalies in Brian Elliot. They beefed up their already steady defence with trade deadline pick ups Jay Bouwmeister and Jordan Leopold, to compliment Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pieterangelo. Their forwards have size toughness and can score, lead by David Backes, Patrick Berglund and Chris Stewart. Los Angeles suffered a bit of a Cup hangover during this shortened season, starting slowly but finishing in fifth place overall. Conn Smyth winner Jonathan Quick required back surgery in the off season, so his slow start was explainable. Their forward corps is still formidable with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams. Their defence is mobile with Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, and have size & toughness with Robyn Regehr and Rob Scuderi. The edge goes to the Kings due to their playoff experience, with better goal scorers versus the Blues tighter team defence.

Vancouver vs. San Jose

Tale of the Tape: San Jose won all 3 games, 4-1, 3-2 and 3-2.

Matt Gauthier predicts: San Jose in 7
Brian La Rose predicts: San Jose in 7
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Vancouver in 7
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Vancouver in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Vancouver in 6

(Brian) Something just doesn’t feel quite right with the Canucks. On paper they have a team that should have been at least in the hunt for top spot in the West but instead they barely won the division. I like San Jose’s offence while Antti Niemi was quietly one of the better goalies in the league. Vancouver’s depth is impressive but I’m not convinced they can shake the malaise that has plagued them this year. The Sharks are perennial underachievers but sooner than later that has to change and I think they make it through in a tight series.

(Jonathan) Vancouver is a different team than 2 years ago, a tougher to play against albeit a lest flashy version. The Sedins take a lot more defensive responsibility and they win more games 3-2 then 6-1. The Sharks are the best home team in the league and Niemi has lots of experience playing the Canucks in a 7 game series.

(Alex) While I say Vancouver in six, I only say it because San Jose is just plain awful in the playoffs. The circus is still in town with the Luongo/Schneider debacle and frankly I have no idea what to think of it. I don’t think Vancouver has the swagger in the goal scoring department and their defense is up and down. San Jose started the year off brilliantly then proceeded to have a rollercoaster year. It’s up to their top guns to turn it up, if they take a back seat, they will be punished. Antti Niemi is a cup winning goaltender, so there’s some stability there but he’s by no means an elite goaltender. Vancouver do know how to win in the playoffs and San Jose doesn’t, that’s what it boils down to in my eyes.

(Norm) The Canucks have a solid veteran presence on defence with Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. Up front, they’re lead by twins Henrik & Daniel Sedin, two-way toughness in Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows. In net, Corey Crawford maintains the #1 status now, but Roberto Luongo could be called on should Crawford falter. In San Jose, the Sharks have been perennial playoff underperformers for several seasons. Forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski have come close to reaching their post season potential. The management made some moves at the deadline to move some veterans, to allow some younger, faster players to move up their depth chart. The defence is solid lead by Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. eteran goalie Antti Niemi finished the season strong, and with a Cup ring to hs resume. Vancouver’s overall depth and experience will be enough to go move forward into round two.