Looking at the conference semifinals

(3) Vancouver Canucks (45-27-10, 1st, Northwest) vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks (46-24-12, 2nd, Central)

2008-09 SERIES: Split, 2-2-0

LEADERS: Vancouver – Daniel Sedin (4 GP, 4G, 2A); Henrik Sedin (4 GP, 2G, 4A); Ryan Kesler (4 GP, 3G, 2A); Alexander Edler (4 GP, 1G, 3A); Mats Sundin (2 GP, 1G, 3A); Roberto Luongo, 3 GP, 2-1-0, 2.36 GAA, 1 SO). Chicago – Kris Versteeg (4 GP, 1G, 4A); Patrick Kane (4 GP, 2G, 2A); Patrick Sharp (4 GP, 3G, 1A); Cristobal Huet (3 GP, 2-0-0, 2.57 GAA); Nikolai Khabibulin (2 GP, 0-2-0, 4.85 GAA).

Old-time hockey! Eddie Shore!!

This is gonna be good.

With both teams combining for an average of 50 penalty minutes per game, there’s little doubt that more of the same physical play will be on tap.

In a 4-0 Canucks win on March 29 in Chicago, a series of brawls broke out in the third period, punctuated by the Blackhawks’ Ben Eager slamming Kevin Bieksa to the ice.

"That brawl will be in the back of everybody’s minds, but it's a different game now," said Chicago’s Adam Burish, who received three roughing minors and a 10-minute misconduct.

Making their first playoff appearance in seven years, the Blackhawks didn’t show any jitters as they beat Calgary in six games, closing out the series with a 4-1 road win on Monday.

“We’re excited about the win, but you pay the price,” captain Jonathan Toews said after Chicago won its first playoff series in 13 years. “You take a lot of pressure and abuse.”

Balance was the key to Chicago’s success – six players scored at least six points with Calder Trophy finalist Kris Versteeg notching a team-high seven.

Vancouver will come into this series well-rested. The Canucks haven’t played since beating St. Louis 3-2 in overtime on April 21 to complete the first sweep in franchise history.

Roberto Luongo – a snub for the Vezina Trophy – posted a 1.15 goals-against average versus the Blues.

“Great players find a way to elevate their game, bring it to another level, and he’s done that,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We need him to bring it to another level because as it continues it’s going to get more challenging every game.”

THE PICK: Chicago in 7. Luongo notwithstanding, the Blackhawks will do anything to set up a conference finals matchup with the hated Red Wings.

(1) Boston Bruins (53-19-10, 1st, Northeast) vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes (45-30-7, 2nd, Southeast)

2008-09 SERIES: Boston, 4-0-0

LEADERS: Boston – David Krejci (4 GP, 3G, 4A); Blake Wheeler (4 GP, 3G, 2A); Michael Ryder (3 GP, 3G); Tim Thomas (3 GP, 3-0-0, 1.33 GAA); Manny Fernandez (1 GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA). Carolina – Ray Whitney (4 GP, 1G, 2A); Matt Cullen (4 GP, 2 G); Rod Brind’Amour and Frantisek Kaberle (4 GP, 2A); Cam Ward (4 GP, 0-4-0, 3.90 GAA)

The Bruins are rested, but the Hurricanes have momentum.

Boston hasn’t played since April 22 after completing a four-game sweep of longtime Original Six rival Montreal. Vezina Trophy finalist Tim Thomas allowed stopped 105 of 111 shots in the series, and former Canadien Michael Ryder paced the offense with four goals and seven points.

For Ryder, the plan for facing Carolina – a team the Bruins swept in the regular season - is simple.

“We have been practicing hard the last week and we know we might be a little rusty but we just have to keep things simple early in the game,” Ryder said in a recent Internet chat session with fans. “We need to make sure we watch our turnovers against these guys and not try to force things.”

For the Hurricanes, the key will be building off perhaps the most exciting finish to any game in franchise history.

On Tuesday, Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal scored in a 48-second span over the final 1:20 for a stunning 4-3 win over New Jersey in Game 7.

“Every five minutes or so … it’s like getting hit with a bus—but a good one,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said of the comeback. “You realize just what happened.”

What happens now is Carolina looking to beat Boston for the first time this season. Improved play from Cam Ward and Staal would be a good start.

Ward lost all four matchups, posting a goals-against average of just under 4. Staal led the ‘Canes with 40 goals and was second with 75 points, but was scoreless against Boston.

“We hope [the Bruins are rusty], but I don’t think we can prepare that way to think that they’ll be anything but their best,” Maurice told the Hurricanes’ official Web site. “Sure, we’re hoping it’s not smooth or easy, but a team like that, even if they’re off a little, they’re not going to be off for seven games. They’ll warm up.”

THE PICK: Bruins in 6. After scoring five goals in the opening round, Staal will help Carolina put up a fight, but the Bruins will come away headed to the conference finals.

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