Around the League: Great Hockey and a Tight Series Ahead

With little time separating the first and second round of playoffs this year, and hockey writers focused on Game 7 of the Washington - Montreal series, the number of previews and predictions for the Sharks - Red Wings series has been lower than it would normally have been by now. More predictions will be up as the day develops, and feel free to share them in the comments as you find them. But here is what the hockey media around the league is saying so far about this upcoming battle. 

While previewing the series, TSN is stressing that while it is a first time Detroit is lower than a 2nd seed in playoffs since 2002, they still have made Stanley Cup finals twice in the last two seasons, and are not the usual fifth seed. Nonetheless, they do have areas that San Jose can exploit

Detroit's second-round weakness might rest in goal, where Howard, a Calder Trophy nominee, posted a 2.59 GAA and .919 save percentage in the opening round. The rookie was making his playoff debut versus the Coyotes.    

In case you forgot, Nabokov is second in the league in playoffs with 1.76 GAA and 5th with a very respectable .926 save percentage. 

Greg Wyshynsky, aka Puck Daddy, notes that when Detroit is on, like they were on in Game 7 against Phoenix, no team can stop them. But there are not always on. 

Jimmy Howard was good when he needed to be, but was protected well in Game 7; less protection, and we've seen him surrender five goals in a playoff game. We've also seen the Red Wings outhustled on some nights in the playoffs, and the Sharks have fast and tenacious players that can push the tempo.

... To hear Joe Pavelski tell it, the Sharks figured out a few things about themselves in Round 1. If this is in fact their year, there's no better catharsis for playoff frustration than eliminating the Red Wings, a symbol of everything the Sharks have not been in the postseason. If such a feat can, in fact, be accomplished by this San Jose group.

Previewing the series for Yahoo! Sports, Ross McKeon notes that Detroit's defense is deeper than Colorado's and that Babcock may find a solution for Pavelski's line. If the Sharks want to win, they'll have to do it with a big help from special teams. 

Special teams figure to be a key in this series as they always are in the playoffs. The Sharks have historically struggled on the power play in the postseason, especially since Thornton's arrival. Defenseman Dan Boyle needs to be at his creative best, Rob Blake needs to find lanes to get his booming shot through and Clowe/Thornton/Marleau need to do their best Tomas Holmstrom impersonation in front of rookie Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.    

The prediction of how the Sharks special teams will do against the Red Wings is a pure speculation at this point, but McKeon is confident that the Sharks have what it takes to continue playing past this series. 

The Sharks' size up front will wear down the Wings' defense. Combine that with Pavelski's line providing secondary scoring, and San Jose will win in six games.    

Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News is noting another important factor that may influence the outcome of the series - how much the Red Wings already had to travel in playoffs, and how much they have yet to travel. 

The rise of Pacific coast teams this year has spun out a cruel reality for the Wings. In the first round, Detroit went back and forth to Phoenix, a trip that spans 1,685 miles one-way. As the visiting team in a seven-game series, the Wings made the trip five times.

Mercifully, the Wings went straight to San Jose for Round 2, but in a worst-case scenario - another seven games - they will be making a 2,070 mile trip four times. 

... Compare that to the road taken by San Jose: Four trips to Denver and back at a distance of 926 miles and one time zone.    

As a magazine, The Hockey News is thinking that Pavelski, the Big Three (HTML line) and the notion that some day San Jose may finally win something are going to be the x-factors in the series and they are picking the Sharks in seven.

There's egg-on-your-face potential anytime you pick the Sharks, but that's a risk we're ready to take. San Jose has already endured some adversity this playoff season; we're betting it's better off for it. Beating the Red Wings represents an opportunity for the entire franchise to take a giant step forward and it feels like it's finally time for that to happen.   

Probably the best preview of the series in all of sports media up to this point is done at The Detroit News. If you have some time to burn before the puck drops tonight, head over there for a series of articles about both teams. Detroit's media is naturally confident about their home team's chances in this round, but they do realize that Detroit is facing a big challenge. This is from yesterday's article by Bob Wojnowski who writes hockey for The Detroit News:

This will be a huge test, trust me. The Wings expended a lot of energy in the first round and showed some defensive cracks, repaired just in time.

The Sharks have another of those quick-heating experienced goaltenders, Evgeni Nabokov, who was tremendous in San Jose's first-round victory over Colorado. The Sharks are loaded with good veterans (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley) and have a rising star in Joe Pavelski.

This will be another classic late-night challenge, a path the Wings know well. They beat the Sharks in three of four regular-season meetings, but the teams have met only once in the past 14 postseasons -- a six-game victory by the Wings in 2007.

In today's article where he's picking Detroit to advance in seven games, Wojnowski notes that some day the Sharks will break through in playoffs, and the Wings should be mindful of that. 

One of these years, the Sharks -- who haven't advanced past the second round of the playoffs four straight years -- will shake those nasty labels, won't they? Maybe. Probably.

That should be the Wings' concern heading into a series that looks like another seven-gamer. This will be a rugged test, no matter what history or reputations suggest. The Wings expended a lot of energy in the first round and showed some defensive cracks, repaired just in time.

Jamie Samuelson is voicing what many of us will be feeling today as we arrive at the Sharks Tank for the game and it's Detroit Red Wings who are warming up in the guest zone. 

Well, we've arrived at that moment. The Wings might not be the most dangerous team left in the playoffs. But down deep in their souls, every single Shark feels the same way. To paraphrase Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark": "The Red Wings! Why did it have to be the Red Wings?"

This is not a prediction. This is not a giddy pom-pom-waving statement. This is reality. The Red Wings are back in the second round, and the Sharks can't be thrilled about it. 

While he thinks that Detroit is going to prevail in the end, he knows it will be no easy task and the first two games will play a crucial role. 

A lot will be told in these first two games. The Wings could seize the momentum from their game last night and steal home ice. But based on how they played at the Joe in Round 1, maybe that's something they don't want. And with that in mind, maybe the Wings finally will pay the price for letting Game 6 slip away. Instead of being rested and fresh, they could be drained from a must-win Game 7.

It's going to be great hockey. Little doubt about that.

It's going to be a tight series. Little doubt about that.

The puck drops in 5 hours. The longest five hours of this season. 

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