May 14, 2011, 8:30 PM EDT
For the second year in a row, the Western Conference finals features the top two seeded teams and once against the San Jose Sharks are one of those two teams. This time around they come in as the second seed up against the first seed and Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks.
The star power in this series is off the charts with Roberto Luongo, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler leading the way for the Canucks against the Sharks’ power of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle. Vancouver won the season series between these two teams going 3-0-1 and winning one of those in the shootout. What’s our take on things? Well we’ve got a lot to say.
Much like the Lightning-Bruins series, these two teams made it to the conference finals in remarkably similar ways. The Canucks and Sharks played in 13 games in which their intestinal fortitude came into question, particularly in nearly “blowing” 3-0 series leads. Yet all the knee-jerk negativity overshadows the strong possibility that they’re the two best teams in the NHL. Choosing a winner is a daunting task.
Simply put, both sides haven’t dealt with anything like each other. The Canucks are a more complete (and mean-spirited) team than the Kings and Red Wings. The Sharks are deeper than the Blackhawks and far more dangerous than the Predators.
With almost a week off, the Sedin twins will be as close to 100 percent health as they can reasonably be in the playoffs. I’m concerned that Henrik Sedin has been playing outright injured, but either way, I think those dynamic duplicates will produce at a higher rate in Round 3. To some extent, it will just be the law of averages correcting itself. Yet one cannot ignore the tough matchups the ginger twins faced in the previous two rounds. I think they’ll get more room against San Jose.
That being said, the law of averages may frown upon Ryan Kesler a bit. That’s not to say he won’t play well; my guess is just that he won’t be able to beat the Sharks on his own like he seemingly did against the Predators. The Sharks offense is astoundingly dangerous, with the usual suspects Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley emboldened by the secondary help provided by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. That stupefying Sharks attack is – in my opinion – the best reason to pick San Jose.
The Canucks lack a signature blueline superstar but might have the deepest top-to-bottom group in the NHL. I think that will be helpful against the pick-your-poison Sharks. Meanwhile, the Sharks clearly boast the best defenseman of either team in Dan Boyle, a remarkably efficient one in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a terrifying hitter in Douglas Murray, but things get a bit shaky after that. The goalie matchup is very close, as Antti Niemi‘s unflappable nature fits the star-crossed Sharks perfectly while people forget that Roberto Luongo remains one of the best netminders in the NHL. Far too much focus revolves around a few flukey goals when the fact of the matter is that Bobby Lou has allowed little else since Game 6 against Chicago.
There’s a lot of moving parts here, but ultimately, I’ll just go with the answer that’s on the tip of my tongue.
Vancouver wins it in 7.
This will be a fascinating series. The two most skilled teams in the West and two teams that are itching to win their first Stanley Cup. Vancouver hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup finals since 1994 and San Jose has never made it that far before. There’s a lot at stake for both teams and I have no doubts that these two are going to be bringing it as crazy as they did during the regular season. Expect things to be fast-paced and a lot of “choker” labels will disappear here as this is a series both teams have been dying to be in for a long time.
If you’ve been waiting for the time when the Sedins would show up, given how they performed against the Sharks this season this could be it. Of course, Ryane Clowe has had some huge games against the Canucks this season as well and he’s been on fire in the playoffs. In the end, this boils down to which way the goaltending falls and Roberto Luongo has been out of his mind good. Not that Antti Niemi has been bad, both guys had rough first rounds, but I look at it playing out the way the Sharks series with Detroit went. There, Jimmy Howard was great but couldn’t quite match up to Niemi. This time Niemi will be good, but not on the same level as Luongo.
Vancouver in 6.
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