Saturday, May 15, 2010
Western Conference Finals Preview
(1) San Jose vs. (2) Chicago
Season Series: 3-1 Chicago
San Jose Sharks breakdown: Defeated Colorado in six and Detroit in five.
These are not the San Jose Sharks of the past that have had playoff setbacks. Through the previous two rounds this team has displayed the grit in addition to their skill that is necessary to succeed in the playoffs. Joe Pavelski is playing out of his mind, and I have never seen Joe Thornton play as well at both ends of the ice as he did in round two.
Offense: Similar to Chicago, San Jose has an explosive offense led by Joe Thornton, who looked like a beast during the Detroit series. Clearly he is motivated, as he dominated the Detroit series, and silenced his critics but finally producing in the playoffs. His linemates, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley, have been solid, but not spectacular. The Sharks second line is the reason that this team is different than years past. Everyone has heard of Joe Pavelski by now, as he has been the best forward west of Michael Cammalleri during the playoffs. He is flanked by Ryan Clowe(10 points), and Devin Setoguchi(5 goals) Role players such as Manny Malhotra, and Scott Nichol have been tremendous on faceoffs, and youngster Logan Couture has chipped in three big goals this postseason. Torrey Mitchell, a speedy forward, has also played well, and sometimes is shifted with Thornton. Overall, San Jose's top six forwards matchup with anyone, however they are not as deep as the Blackhawks from top to bottom. For San Jose to win, Thornton will have to continue his torrid pace as will Pavelski. The Sharks have a size advantage in this series, which could give them a good chance if they wear the Hawks down as the series goes on.
Defense: The Sharks defense has a mix of veterans with Stanley Cup rings, (Boyle, Blake, and Huskins), a stay at home bruiser in Douglas Murray, a technically sound Marc Vlasic, and a surprising rookie in Jason Demers. This group will have its hands full with the speedy Blackhawks, but they do play a more physical game than Chicago's past two opponents. It will be interesting to see what combination head coach Todd Mclellan puts on the ice to defend Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Dan Boyle is the key, as he logs loads of ice time and supplies most of the offense from the Sharks blueline.
Goaltending: Besides one bad game each in the Colorado series, and the Detroit series, Evgeni Nabokov has certainly redeemed himself from a poor playoff last season. When he is on his game he is one of the leagues best, and on paper this is the position where the Sharks have the biggest advantage. Chicago did make Roberto Luongo look silly at times, and you know Nabokov will be seeing a lot of Dustin Byfuglien's rear end in front of the crease. However, the Sharks defense is much better than Vancouver's depleted unit. In any series goaltending is the biggest key to winning so obviously he will need to play as good or even better as he did against the Red Wings.
Chicago Blackhawks breakdown: Defeated Nashville in six and Vancouver in six.
Nashville gave the Hawks a big scare in Round one and if it weren't for a late shorthanded goal that the Hawks scored in game 4, that series could of turned. For whatever reason, the Hawks looked like a much better team on the road, than at the United Center. This team is scary on offense from top to bottom, they possess two of the best defensemen in the league, and they may have found a solid goalie in Antti Niemi.
Offense: Anytime you have six players on your roster that scored over 20 goals it spells trouble for opposing defenses. Jonathan Toews at 22 years old has proved to be one of the best leaders and scorers in the league. He has amassed 20 points in only twelve playoff games, and sets up one of the leagues best snipers in Patrick Kane(7 goals). If that is not enough, the other forward, Dustin Byfuglien, uses his 6-4 250 pound frame to cause havoc in front of the opposing net. Patrick Sharp centers the 2nd line that consists of a 40 goal scorer a year ago, Marian Hossa. Hossa has only scored two goals this postseason, but if he gets hot along with the likes of Kris Versteeg, who had a strong series versus Vancouver, and the players mentioned it may be impossible to stop them. Chicago is very fast, and like the Sharks they win plenty of faceoffs, but they are not very physical. Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, and Troy Brouwer are probably the Hawks most physical forwards in addition to Byfuglien. Kopecky especially had a good series against Vancouver and will attempt to get under the skin of Thornton and Pavelski.
Defense: Anyone who watched the Olympics this February realized that one of the keys for Canada's gold medal win, was the play of defensemen Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. These two are some of the best in the game and will most likely be paired against Thornton's line. I thought Niklas Hjalmarsson has played better as the playoffs have gone on. Brian Campbell, a former Shark, who also supplies offense, and the rugged stay at home Brent Sopel, round out a very formidable defense. Keep in mind that Chicago basically shut down the explosive Sedin twins in the second round.
Goaltending: This was a supposed weak spot of the Blackhawks, but Antti Niemi has been solid thus far for Chicago. The rookie from Finland, has had a few poor outings, but always seems to respond well after a loss. He will drive Hawk fans crazy as he is prone to give up a soft goal, but he also has two shutouts this postseason. Chicago plays such a puck possession game that most of the time the Hawks have the puck in the offensive zone. However, the Sharks play the same way and usually outshoot their opponents. In our opinion, Niemi will have to play better than he did against Vancouver, and can ill afford to give up soft goals.
Prediction: This is a dream matchup for hockey fans as both teams possess extreme skill, speed, and a plethora of talent. Both these clubs enter Sunday's game playing on top of their game and hitting on all cylinders. In what promises to be a classic series, I feel that the Hawks have too much offense, and I think they will be able to contain the Sharks somewhat, similar to what they did against the Canucks. It would not shock me if San Jose won, but after watching both these teams closely, I think the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey right now.
Chicago in six