Friday, May 14, 2010

How the West will be won

The San Jose Sharks are on the road to redemption. Prolonged pains of playoffs past are being erased by each passing victory. After Dan Boyle's unfortunate own-goal in Game 3 against the Avs, the Sharks have gone 7-1. Along the way, the unthinkable happened. The Sharks took out the mighty Red Wings who until then, had taken the Sharks lunch money every day at 1 PM sharp since '95.
Now they are swimming in uncharted waters. Sure the team in '04 made the Conference Finals but they ran out of gas in that series losing all 3 games at home, flaming out to Calgary in 6 Games. Usual suspects Joe Thornton, Evgeni Nabokov and Patty Marleau all started slow this post season, but were at their best against the Wings.
By the time the Sharks and Blackhawks drop the puck this Sunday, the Sharks will have been off for a week. Chi-town finished off Vancouver on Tuesday so they will be rested as well. Rust may be a factor but neither team should have trouble getting the blood flowing. The Tank will be a madhouse (myself included) and both these teams have a lot of post season experience.
Up and down the roster, these teams mirror eachother significantly. But it is the subtle differences between them that will decide the series. For the Hawks, Antii Niemi has played solid in net but not spectacular. If Evgeni Nabokov stays hot like he was against Detroit, the Sharks will have a chance to win every night. Nabby is desperate to shake the label of post season underachiever, not to mention he is an unrestricted free agent after the playoffs.

Sharks need to get off to a hot start. They need to take advantage of that home ice. They got off to a quick start against Detroit and never looked back. All four of their victories in that series were by one goal. This is the type of resilience fans have been hoping for in San Jose for years. Should this trend continue, this team has a legitimate chance to advance to the Finals. It is highly unlikely this series will be over before Game 6 or 7. It will be a war of attrition. Players like Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol need to come to the forefront and make life hell for the tough Chicago forwards. Some more timely scoring by Pavelski, Marleau, and Heatley would make things easier as well.
These games will be close. Forwards are about even, Hawks have a the edge with their deep and talented defense, but the edge in net has to go to Nabby. This is going to be fun.
Prediction: Sharks in 7.