The Western Conference Final has become the Battle of the Pacific. It will be Orca versus Shark when Vancouver takes on San Jose in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Both teams will be looking for their first Stanley Cup. For the Sharks they’ll be looking to get to the final for the first time in franchise history. The Canucks won three of four meetings between the two teams this season and with the rest and practice time they have enjoyed waiting for the Sharks and Wings, they should be the fresher team to start the series.
Like the Canucks the Sharks got over a bit of a mental hurdle in advancing to the conference final and both teams will be looking to take the next step on the way to hockey’s most precious prize.
Let’s take a look at the series.
Both teams have plenty of fire power up front but for the Canucks to win this series they will have to get better performances from Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Ryan Kesler’s heroics alone will not be enough to beat the Sharks who possess a much more potent attack than Nashville. The Sharks style should suit the Sedin’s game better than the Predators’ did and the Sharks don’t really have a pair of shut down defensemen like Chicago and Nashville to blanket the twins. The Sharks may choose to start the series trying to neutralize Kesler so the Sedins must elevate their game, especially on the power play. The support of others will be paramount to deciding what team wins this series and like Vancouver needs better production from the twins, San Jose needs a better performance from Patrick Marleau who scored just once in seven games against Detroit and had drawn the criticism from former a teammate as well as hockey analysts. The Sharks probably have more proven scorers in the lineup with the likes of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Dany Heatley making up a very formidable 2nd unit. Ryan Kesler aside, Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins will have to be at their best to try and match that fire power.
The third line for each team will be a big factor and the Canucks will once again looked for yeoman’s work from Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres, while the Sharks counter with some more potential offense from former Canuck Kyle Wellwood, Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell. The fourth lines will be a mixed bag for both teams and will likely change throughout the series depending on how the games are being played out. Former Blackhawk Ben Eager will be looking to annoy as many Canucks as possible.
Edge: San Jose. Based on their depth the Sharks have more pure scorers than the Canucks.
There is an old saying that defence wins championships and if that holds true then the Canucks should be in good shape in this series. Vancouver has more depth on defence and have a top four that should be able to match up against the top two San Jose lines. The Canucks defence loves to jump up into the play and against the Sharks there should be more chances to do so. Alex Edler had a rough series against Nashville but settled down when Sami Salo returned and was paired with him. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will once again log huge minutes in an effort to shut down the Thornton line. Christian Erhoff has been hot and cold but has 9 points after the first two rounds.
San Jose’s Dan Boyle leads all defenseman in playoff scoring and his partner Douglas Murray leads the playoffs with 51 hits Jason Demers , Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Niclas Wallin and Ian White round out the top six for San Jose who get it done by committee on the blueline.
Edge: Vancouver. Vancouver’s top six is among the best in the league and if they stay healthy and play to their potential they have an overall edge.
Another round another series under the microscope for Roberto Luongo. The best way to describe his playoffs thus far has been steady. He came up big when needed on more than one occasion in both rounds and save a couple of blowouts against the Hawks, his stats have been very impressive. But none of that matters in Vancouver where goaltenders are heroes one minute and lynched the next. Luongo will have his critics until he wins the cup and he seems to have settled in again after the big milestone of beating Chicago. Good nes for Canucks fans because the Sharks will be generating many more chances than Nashville did.
In Antti Niemi the Canucks face another nemesis, one who was a key factor in last year’s win by Chicago. The Canucks had nice success against him in 2011 however and shouldn’t feel intimidated by him like they may have against Pekka Rinne in round two. Niemi hasn’t been spectacular thus far, but he has year to lose a playoff series.
Edge: Vancouver. More experience and Luongo is on a mission to silence his critics. He performs better the busier he is and he’ll be seeing a lot more rubber in this series.
This series is going to seven games. It’s going to feature some end to end hockey, physical play and great goaltending. Can your heart take it Canucks fans? Special teams will be a key and the Canucks can’t afford a lot of penalties against a very dangerous group of forwards that the Sharks can throw out on the power play. Likewise, if Daniel and Henrik can get hot on the power play, the Canucks should be in great shape.
Home ice will be the difference, and in game seven the Canucks will prevail and head to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, leaving the Sharks waiting once again for their first birth to the final.
Related: Tom Benjamin – The Final Four