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Phoenix Coyotes' Shane Doan, right, celebrates a win over the San Jose Sharks with teammate Ilya Bryzgalov (30), of Russia, after the third period of an NHL hockey game Friday, April 8, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 4-3, and with the win clinched a playoff spot. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Ross D. Franklin

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks (54-19-9) v. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (44-29-9)

2010-11 season series: Canucks 2-1-1

Breakdown: The Canucks' reward for a wire-to-wire finish atop the NHL standings is a first-round meeting with the defending champions, a team that eliminated them in each of the past two playoffs. Not fair. There is a difference though: Vancouver is better overall than they were a year ago and Chicago is not as good, especially in terms of overall depth, thanks to their off-season salary purges of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg. The Canucks will rely heavily on Ryan Kesler to do the heavy lifting defensively, especially with Manny Malhotra gone for the season, and have a decided edge in blueline depth, where their one-to-six rearguards are tops in the league.

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Vancouver in 6.

No. 2 San Jose Sharks (48-25-9) v. No. 7 Los Angeles Kings (46-30-6)

2010-11 season series: Sharks 3-1-2

Breakdown: It's only the third time since 1969 that two California teams meet in the playoffs, and the Sharks go in as heavy favourites, mostly by default. Already challenged to score goals, which is why they picked up Dustin Penner at the deadline, the Kings lost Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams in the stretch drive, and weren't able to compensate, scoring just 11 goals in the final seven games. The Sharks stumbled through an unimpressive first half, but have rolled since mid-January, getting an especially tenacious brand of hockey from both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who've long been challenged to raise their levels in the post-season. Antti Niemi is one of just two goalies in this year's playoffs with a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé.

San Jose in 5.

No. 3 Detroit Red Wings (47-25-10) v. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes (43-26-13)

2010-11 season series: Coyotes 2-0-2

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Breakdown: Detroit is the vastly superior team offensively, but the edge isn't nearly as significant as long as Henrik Zetterberg, the 2008 Conn Smythe winner, remains out with a knee injury (and he is not expected to play in the opener). Phoenix gets scoring by committee, with only one player, Shane Doan, able to crack the 20-goal barrier, but six others finishing with more than 15. Keith Yandle had a breakout year on the blueline for the Coyotes, and Ilya Bryzgalov is capable of stealing a series, providing an edge over Jimmy Howard, who had an up-and-down sophomore season. This is a rematch of last year's opening-round series that went the distance, with the Red Wings ultimately prevailing.

Detroit in 7.

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks (47-30-5) v. No. 5 Nashville Predators (44-27-11)

2010-11 season series: Predators 3-1-0

Breakdown: Everybody fears the Ducks and for good reason. They lost only five of their final 21 in regulation, pushing from the ranks of the also-rans all the way up to the No. 4 seed. Their top line - of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan - can give the Sedins and Alex Burrows a run for their money as the NHL's best unit. The Predators never really score enough to excite you, but they do have the sort of shutdown defence pair - Shea Weber and Ryan Suter - that can test Getzlaf and Co.'s effectiveness. If they can limit their contributions and Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne plays the way he did in the regular season, the underdog Preds have a chance.

Nashville in 6.

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