The clock is ticking, with less than four hours left till the puck drop. Time has never been slower.
As we do this time before the game, we're presenting you with predictions for San Jose Sharks- Detroit Red Wings series. First we'll start with our own, and we'll then finish with those around the league.
Jason Plank (aka Mr. Plank): When it comes to Detroit I always flip a coin. Both teams are so good up and down their lineup that it sort of feels cheap to make a bold prediction one way or another. They know each other well, have a history against each other-- no secrets, no surprises. Only execution.
I think the Sharks have better depth at forward and better goaltending, and I think Detroit has the edge on the blueline. But one difference between these two teams that is interesting to me is the "game-changer" ability. I know I know, that sounds like some stupid power up in Madden 2011 or something, but to me Detroit has three guys who can singlehandedly take over a game even with little help from their linemates-- Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Franzen-- while San Jose only has one in Niemi. Hockey is a sport where it's so unbelievably rare to see a player take over a game by himself, for the sole reason that it's most "team-oriented" team sport in the world, but those four players have shown an ability to do so before.
It becomes a question of whether you take the deeper and more talented team, or the one with more players who can go out and get it done on their own (please keep in mind we are speaking in relative terms here). I think I take the deeper team over the course of a seven game series, but then again, in that game seven, you'd like to have a player who can dictate the tempo of a game every time he hits the ice in that game seven. And around and around we go.
Like I said, when it comes to Detroit I always end up flipping a coin.
Sharks in 7.
Matt Taylor (aka Matthew_Taylor): It's a shame that these two teams have never met in the Western Conference finals; this matchup is likely one of the best you will see all postseason. It's really going to come down to depth and goaltending, with the Sharks having the edge in both categories in my opinion. Lidstrom will only be able to match one line, and the Sharks have three which can beat you. In addition, the Sharks have scored on Jimmy Howard consistently during his time in the NHL.
Now, San Jose will have to be better on defense and in goal if they want to stop an equally potent Detroit offense. Can Niemi rebound and put up his usually strong showing against Detroit? I think he can.
No matter how much credit is given to Detroit because they've "been there before", it's not San Jose's first rodeo either.
Sharks in 6.
Ivan Makarov (aka Ivano M): While some of the things are the same this year as they were last year - coaches, most of the players for both teams, strong regular season and home ice advantage for the Sharks - there are still stark differences that may make a big difference. I like the new 3rd line the Sharks have this year - probably the best 3rd line in franchise history, and it is the kind of line the Sharks did not have last year. I also like how the team has been playing in the 3rd period - in the second half of the regular season, and in playoffs too. If the Sharks can stay focused in the 1st periods and not allow too many goals too quickly, they'll have a chance in every game. Third periods has been a weakness for Detroit this season.
However, what we often forget about last year's series is how good Nabokov was against Detroit. He was solid and made some big saves at crucial times. He did have Game 4, but the whole team didn't show up on that night. I don't have the same faith in Niemi - not after watching him struggle in just about every game against the Kings. Sharks won't be winning too many games allowing 4-5 goals against Detroit.
With that, I still prefer the Sharks with their 3rd line and ability to keep playing in 3rd periods and in overtimes like the game just started.
Sharks in 7.
Ann Frazier (aka mymclife): I have not been alive for a time where the Red Wings haven't made the playoffs (I assume it is one filled with peace and harmony and a surplus of tin foil). They have one of the best defensemen of all time in Nicklas Lidstrom, who is 41 years old and still a Norris Trophy finalist. They have Tomas Holmstrom, probably the best plant-ass-in-crease player in the league. They have Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Franzen and Kronwall and Stuart and even our old friend, noted Shark killer Mike Modano. They have one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Babcock. In a phrase, they're a championship-caliber team. Thing is, I think the Sharks can beat them.
In terms of forwards, I'd say the Sharks have an edge. In terms of defense, I'd go with Detroit. And, barring a reappearance of Antti "three goals in four shots" Niemi in lieu of "I'm taking you to the playoffs on my back" Niemi, the Sharks have the advantage in goaltending. The demons from Joe Louis Arena are largely gone. Most of all, Joe Thornton turns into some sort of Super Joe when he plays against the Red Wings. Oh, and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski seem to play pretty well against them as well.
Sharks in 6.
As for other predictions, they generally favor the Red Wings, but not as much as I expected when we first learned of the matchup. Here is your summary.
Pierre Lebrun, ESPN:
San Jose's inconsistent effort in the first round against Los Angeles didn't sit well with us, especially when compared to Detroit's hammer job versus Phoenix. The Red Wings are hungry to exact some revenge for last year's playoff defeat. This has the potential to be the best series of the second round, pairing two Cup contenders, but we like the tried-and-true Wings. Detroit in seven.
Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy:
The Red Wings are going to have Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen back, and are rested following their first-round sweep. The Sharks, meanwhile, had a chaotic and tiring series vs. the Kings. Recipe for defeat? Nah. The Sharks have better scoring depth than Detroit and, in this series, I predict better goaltending. It'll go long, but the Sharks will go to the conference finals. Better chance of happening: Thornton scoring another OT goal or us getting through this series without at least one War Room controversy? [Sharks in 7]
The Sharks got rid of their second round demons by dispatching the Red Wings last season, but you just get the sense the Red Wings are locking things down in their customary fashion during this year's post-season. If the Sharks play as harried and sloppy as they did in the first round, the Red Wings might make very quick work of them. As it is, we'll take the Red Wings' experience and savvy. Red Wings in 6.
Andrew Bensch, Fox Sports:
If Detroit is to knock off the Sharks, it will almost certainly need to continue its hot ways with the man advantage and hope it gets the majority of opportunities. San Jose's power play struggled in Round 1, but against an extremely solid Los Angeles penalty kill. Look for that to change against Detroit. ...
San Jose proved down the stretch it can be a solid defensive team with tremendous goaltending from Antti Niemi. The Sharks went 26-6-4 in their final 36 games of the regular season led by a stingy defense.
The Sharks finished 10th in the league with a 2.54 GA/G in the regular season, 13 spots ahead of the Red Wings (23rd, 2.89 GA/G). They also blocked more shots, 1,148 to Detroit's 917.
Jimmy Howard may be able to steal a game in this series between the pipes for the Red Wings, but the Sharks are the better team this year.
Not only will the Sharks' power play get back on track, but Boyle won't have a second straight sub-par series, and neither will the San Jose defense as a whole.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
Joe Yerdon and James O'Brian of NBC ProHockeyTalk:
It's stunning how many people are treating this series as a no-brainer for the Red Wings, especially since San Jose beat them in a tidy (if thrilling) five games in 2010 and the Sharks also took the 2010-11 season series 3-1.Yes, these teams are in different situations than last year. And yes, the thought of Tomas Holmstrom tormenting an already-fragile Antti Niemi gives me serious pause.
Still, I cannot shake the feeling that San Jose and Detroit carry the same core strengths and weaknesses - ridiculous offense, top-heavy defense and an average goalie - yet the Sharks happen to be considerably younger and resoundingly bigger than the Red Wings. There's plenty of reasons to go with both teams, but my gut says to go with the Sharks.
Pick: San Jose in six.
This one is an instant contender for best series of the second round. There's a genuine dislike between both teams. Joe Thornton comes up big against the Wings, Detroit gets driven nuts by Devin Setoguchi, and Antti Niemi has some of that leftover Chicago swagger from last year. Detroit meanwhile has Henrik Zetterberg coming back, Pavel Datsyuk‘s brilliance, and the savvy leadership of Nicklas Lidstrom. You want a heavyweight battle, this is it.
In my mind, this one is destined for seven games. The X-factor here being how good Jimmy Howard can be in goal for the Wings. I think he's just a tad better than Niemi and the Wings are very well motivated to avenge last year's defeats.
Pick: Detroit in seven
What are your predictions?