(1) Vancouver vs. (2) San Jose
For the second straight year the Western Conference Finals pits the 1st seed against the 2nd seed. San Jose returns after being sweep by Chicago in four games last season. The Vancouver Canucks won the President's trophy and had a regular season best power play and penalty kill. Both teams have had playoff disappointments in the past but something will give this year. San Jose has never advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, while the Canucks have not been back since losing in seven games to the NY Rangers in 1994.
Why the Sharks will win:
Depth: Unlike Vancouver's last two opponents, Nashville and Chicago, the Sharks have the deepest team in the league at forward. Three of their lines can score and fourth line players such as Mayers, Eager, and Nichol are difficult to play against. Joe Thornton looks to be playing with a chip on his shoulder so far this postseason and the Sharks have found a way to have a 5-0 record in overtime. In addition to Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski give the Sharks three very solid centers which cause match-up problems for opposing teams. The Canucks have a talented group of forwards as well, but will miss Manny Malhotra and Mikael Samuelsson who are injured and unlikely to play this series.
Antti Niemi: He won the cup last season with Chicago and defeated Vancouver along the way in Round Two. We have more confidence in him than the fragile Roberto Luongo. Niemi did struggle at times in the LA series, but redeemed himself against the Wings. Luongo did have a brilliant regular season, but still can be scary in tight playoff games.
How the Canucks could win:
Better Defense: The Sharks were forced to plug in Kent Huskins who has not played in three months to fill in for the injured Jason Demers. The Canucks will not have that probelm should they have an injury this series. Vancouver has battled injuries all year to defensemen and have dressed a total of 12 this season. The Canucks defense is physical and very deep. Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sammi Salo, and Alex Edler all log plenty of minutes. The Sharks defense had trouble at times in the LA series and also against Detroit and are apt to turn the puck over at key times.
Special Teams: The Vancouver Canucks power play is lethal, while the San Jose PK struggled in the regular season. To the Sharks credit their PK came up huge at crucial points of the first two playoff series. Still the special teams battle should be an advantage for the Canucks.
Home Ice: As we've seen thus far, home ice may not mean as much the first six games, but if a series goes to a Game 7 than it is critical. Home teams posted a 4-1 record in Game 7's through the first two rounds.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
We predicted a San Jose-Boston Stanley Cup Final before the playoffs started so we'll stick with that. This series could go either way and normally the team with the better depth on defense prevails but the Sharks seem like a different team this season and we still don't trust the mental state of the Canucks. Vancouver has had a wonderful series and it would not surprise at all if they ended up hoisting the cup, however we'll take the Sharks to win in 7.