Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge Sharks fan just like all of you out there and would kill just as much as you would to get that elusive cup, or hell out of the second round as we like to tease around here. This post is inspired because I was interested of some of the possibilites since there has been some discussion of playoffs around here.
It looks obvious through the first half of the season that the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings have looked like the two best teams in the Western Conference. Of course you could say that the Red Wings haven’t looked as sharp this year and think you probably would have a point well taken. Their statistics are obviously down, especially on the defense and goaltending end. It's been well documented that Osgood has a save percentage of .876 and is allowing 3.12 goals a game. However this is countered with an offense that seizes to impress. The addition of Hossa to an already stacked team gives them even more depth. He is currently sitting at a pretty 34 points to go along with Datsyuk and his 41. We all know the story about the Sharks. Pucks on net, speed, defense jumping into the play. Our style of play has changed and in my opinion made us playoff ready and given us a toughness we lacked previously. Rob Blake has given us some of that toughness along the blue line with the great play of Boyle, leading all defenseman in scoring and everyday smart play that is Vlasic.
So let me do my own speculation. So what are the chances that you see this dream series of Sharks vs. Wings? Glad you asked, I was wondering the same exact scenario. Over the last 8 Stanley Cup playoffs 2008-2000, minus the 05 lockout, the number 1 and 2 seeds have matched up just twice over this span in the Western Conference. It has happened just once in the Eastern Conference which is pretty unbelievable. It happened in 2002 when Detroit faced off against Colorado in a marquee matchup and in 2007 when Detroit and Anaheim faced off and the Ducks went on to win the cup. In the Eastern Conference it happened in 2003 when Ottawa faced off against New Jersey. I was rather perplexed when I found this information out. Also, the number of one or two seed in a conference had failed to reach their conference semifinals 16 of 32 times. Meaning that on any given year, either the 1 or 2 seed made it to the conference semifinal, while the other was stuck out on the golf course dreaming of what could’ve been and what happened to their perfect regular season. So although it may seem as though these teams are on a collision course, maybe someone out there like the Canucks, or the post-sloppy Stars will have something to say about this.
Of course many would conclude that this year is different and that the Sharks and Red Wings are more dominant than two teams have ever been in a conference before. Although this point is very well taken, there always seems to be a sleeper team that makes a great run during the playoffs. Last year those teams were the Philadelphia Flyers and the Dallas Stars. Philly made it to the conference semis as a 6 seed and Dallas obviously beat the Sharks as the 5 seed. In 2006 the Western Conference semis featured a number 8 and 6 seed with the Ducks facing off against the Oilers, the 8 seed who eventually went on to push the Hurricanes to a seventh game in the finals, incredible considering they were an 8 seed. I really hope for the Sharks sake that we do see this matchup, not only would it be a great matchup up for us but for the NHL as well.
Why are these numbers the way they are? One of the major things that a team needs going into the playoffs is momentum, which can carry a hot team. Lets face it, the playoffs are a whole different beast than the regular season, the game changes no question about it. Some teams are just designed for postseason play more than others. Physicality is ramped up and the penalties almost seem non-existent at times. Some of the teams that gain their superiority in the regular season just can’t hang with it through the toughness of the playoffs.