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Western Conference, without Stanley Cup winner since 2002, has top contenders

Five of the top six teams in the overall standings at season's end Sunday were in the West, where team defence - so important in the post-season - is more prevalent than in the East.

Here's a look at the matchups (seedings in parentheses):

Calgary (8) at Detroit (1)

Opener: Thursday 7 p.m. ET

Season series: each team won twice at home in regulation time.

Last playoff meeting: 2004, Calgary upset Detroit 4-2 in semifinal.

Last spring: both out in first round - Calgary against Anaheim, 4-3, and Detroit against Edmonton, 4-2.

In the nets: A goaltending duel between Dominik Hasek (2.05 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) and Miikka Kiprusoff (2.46, .917) looms.

Injury front: Detroit star Henrik Zetterberg hasn't played since Feb. 24 but will be ready for series although not at peak form right away . . . Wings' Todd Bertuzzi, who hurt his neck last Thursday, is expected to be cleared to play . . . Calgary defenceman Robyn Regehr might be hampered after hurting a knee last week.

Quote: "They're a chippy team. They play strong defensively. It's tough to get scoring chances on them. They come back real hard. That's something we just have to battle through." - Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom.

Synopsis: Calgary 10th and Detroit 21st in power-play rankings, but Detroit seventh and Calgary 22nd in penalty killing . . . The Red Wings' speed will cause the Flames problems . . . Red Wings' have the most depth with a dozen double-digit scorers . . . Also, Red Wings allowed 27 fewer goals than Flames . . . Detroit finished 17 points ahead of Calgary so is the obvious favourite.

Minnesota (7) at Anaheim (2)

Opener: Wednesday 10:30 p.m. ET

Season series: home team won all four games and all were one-goal decisions. One of Minnesota's wins was in a shootout. Last met Dec. 31.

Last playoff meeting: 2003, Anaheim won conference final 4-0.

Last spring: Minnesota didn't qualify; Anaheim lost conference final 4-1 to Edmonton.

In the nets: Nicklas Backstrom, Minnesota's 29-year-old rookie Finn, led the league with 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage. Anaheim's J.S. Giguere has good numbers, too (2.26, .918).

Injury front: Wild's Pavol Demitra (strained leg muscle) missed last two games but should be ready for opener.

Quote: "Take care of the puck, get in their end and go on from there. That's what we're after." - Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer.

Synopsis: Anaheim has strongest offence but Minnesota's neutral-zone trap can smother opponents . . . Both have top-notch power plays and penalty killers . . . Minnesota's Marian Gaborik scored 30 goals in only 48 games . . . The Ducks finished only three points ahead of the Wild, who are 22-5-4 since Jan. 27.

Dallas (6) at Vancouver (3)

Opener: Wednesday 10 p.m. ET

Season series: each team won at home by one goal before Vancouver home shootout win and then Dallas home overtime win in last meeting Feb. 25.

Last playoff meeting: 1994, Vancouver won 4-1 in second round.

Last spring: Vancouver didn't qualify; Dallas knocked off by Colorado 4-1 in first round.

In the nets: Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (2.29, .921) makes first playoff appearance, while Marty Turco (2.23, .910) looks to shine after previous playoff disappointments.

Injury front: X-rays of Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa's foot show no breaks and he's declared himself "100 per cent certain" for Wednesday.

Quote: "I think it will be like a chess match. I don't think it'll be very high-scoring, and special teams will play a big part, too." - Canucks' Brendan Morrison.

Synopsis: Two strong-checking teams collide . . . Dallas finished with two more points than Vancouver . . . Stars have the superior power play, but Vancouver is No. 1 in the league in penalty killing . . . Luongo gives the Canucks a goaltending edge, and that could be the difference.

San Jose (5) at Nashville (4)

Opener: Wednesday 8 p.m.

Season series: split first two followed by 5-0 Nashville win and 4-3 Nashville win in shootout in last meeting Feb. 28.

Last playoff meeting: 2006, San Jose won first-round series 4-1.

Last spring: San Jose eliminated 4-2 by Edmonton in second round.

In the nets: Nashville's Tomas Vokoun (2.40, .920) missed last spring's playoffs due to blood clots; San Jose goes with Evgeni Nabokov (2.29, .914).

Injury front: Steve Sullivan (back spasms) won't be ready so the Predators will welcome the return of Martin Erat, who hasn't played since hurting a knee March 13.

Quote: "Discipline is going to be huge." - Predators forward Scott Hartnell.

Synopsis: San Jose scored nine power-play goals in eliminating Nashville last spring so staying out of the penalty box will be a priority for the Preds . . . The Sharks have the second-best power play in the NHL. Nashville ranked 19th on power plays, but the Predators have better penalty killing than San Jose . . . Nashville finished with only three more points than the Sharks . . . Joe Thornton had a league-best 24 points in March but has previously been a playoff underachiever . . . With Peter Forsberg and Jason Arnott, Nashville is stronger than when lost last year.


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