VANCOUVER CANADA - JANUARY 20: Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks holds off Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks while trying to clear the puck during the third period in NHL action on January 20 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver BC Canada.Goalie Antti Niemi #31 looks on in the background. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Thanks to the Sharks deciding to drag the Red Wings series little longer, the wait between the Western Conference semifinal and final is very short. The puck will drop in less than three hours. As you pace in your house from room to room wondering what else to do before the Sharks hit the ice again (or if you're taking a nice long nap - my plan for as soon as I hit the "submit" button), it's time to round up some predictions for the series first from the authors of this blog and second from other hockey writing media.
Before we jump into the details, it's no surprise that most of the media is predicting Vancouver to prevail. They were an easy pick before the playoffs started. All that these writers are doing is saying, "look - I told you Vancouver is good!" No one cares the Canucks came within one shot of being eliminated from the 1st round, or that it took them 6 games to overcome Nashville Predators, or that Henrik Sedin has less points than Dan Boyle, or Daniel less than Logan Couture for that matter. All is forgotten, and lo and behold, the Canucks are once again the favorites to win the Cup.
Sounds good. We all know how the Sharks play when no one believes in them.
Fear the Fin Predictions
Jason Plank, aka Mr. Plank
He wrote two detailed articles previewing the series here and here. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend them, as it'll tell you all you need to know about this series. The essence of what our fearless leader is thinking is summarized in this section:
Vancouver is a good team in transition. Limiting turnovers, while always a necessity throughout the course of a hockey game, is essential against Vancouver. They have more speed throughout their lineup than either Detroit or Los Angeles did-- historically that has given an issue for San Jose. Furthermore, the Canucks activate their defense with aplomb and are very aggressive in the offensive zone. Their special teams are excellent, their goal scoring spread throughout the lineup.
In every sense of the word they are a team that will provide an immense challenge for San Jose. And for the second series in a row, this one is likely subject to the flip of a coin.
It's going to be an excellent matchup to be certain, one that will most certainly provide many thrills along the way.
Matthew Taylor, aka Matthew_Taylor
These two teams are so evenly matched, that my first prediction is that this will be a great series. However, I have to refer to the same reasoning that I picked the Sharks over both Los Angeles and Detroit: Depth.
The Sharks forward group gives them a bevy of scoring options, more than even the Vancouver Canucks. The matchup I'm looking forward to watching is how the Canucks match up their defensemen against the Sharks offense.
The Vancouver defense scares me, as they're probably the best top to bottom in the league. Luongo has shown that he's still elite, despite his struggles against Chicago in the first round. I still give San Jose the edge.
I'm taking the Sharks in six games.
Ann Frazier, aka mymclife
The Vancouver Canucks are considered to be the best team in hockey. They were the best at pretty much everything in the regular season, has a defense so deep they can lose their top three and still ice a blueline better than many in the league, and have two players that communicate telepathically. I mean, that last one is just unfair.
But the Sharks have an advantage in the forward group - when you have Joe Pavelski, American Hero centering your third line, you are deep. Antti Niemi, after an October-esque first round against the Los Angeles Kings, has turned it on and has been playing like the goalie that carried the Sharks on his shoulders through the second half of the season. The defense has been bolstered by the team defense preached by Todd McLellan, headed by San Jose's self-proclaimed shut-down center Joe Thornton. These Sharks are built for the playoffs.
The Canucks were the overall best team in the regular season, yes. But I believe the Sharks should get the better of them in the end of a tough, hard-fought series.
Sharks in 6.
Ivan Makarov, aka Ivano M
The key for the Sharks is that they'll start on the road. All the pressure now is for Vancouver to win both at home. If the Sharks will manage to steal one in Canada before making it back to the Bay Area, they'll face a great opportunity to build a strong lead in the series. And I see the Sharks using it to their advantage, especially with emotions from Game 7 still fresh.
I'll go on a limb here and predict that while the games will be close, the luck will favor the Sharks this time. They lose one in Vancouver, but go on to win the rest of the games on the shoulders of Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Antti Niemi (who now won six playoffs series in a row), and who else but Logan Couture. The Sedins will continue to be non-factors in this playoffs as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau shut them down. Luongo will try hard but it won't be enough - he's still Luongo in playoffs. Ryan Kessler will play like the Ryan Kessler of old - the same Ryan Kessler who had just three goals in 23 playoffs games before this spring (one less than Logan Couture in his first playoffs in the league).
Sharks in 5.
Predictions Around the League
Everybody at Puck Daddy picked Vancouver to win this one. Here is sample of why.
Greg Wyshynski, Editor, Puck Daddy
Ryan Kesler had 11 points on the Vancouver Canucks' 14 goals during their semifinals win against the Nashville Predators. It was one of the single greatest individual efforts in the franchise's playoff history, and there's no reason not to expect he'll bring it again in the conference finals.
But he's going to need help to beat the San Jose Sharks.
Which means it falls on Henrik Sedin, with 5 points and a minus-11 since Game 4 against the Blackhawks, and Daniel Sedin, with 5 points and a minus-12 in the same stretch, to elevate their games in this series for the Canucks to have a chance against a Sharks team that has shown impressive depth this postseason.
It's going to be a long, physical, unpredictable series between two well-matched teams. Special teams will play a significant role. In the end, we'll take the Canucks because of home ice and because Luongo will play a little bit better than Niemi.
Canucks in 7
Sean Leahy, Associate Editor, Puck Daddy
Both teams came close to blowing 3-0 series leads and both won hard fought, emotional Game 7's to move on. Vancouver recovered from their series with Chicago and played well early against Nashville. Can San Jose do the same against the Canucks?
Ryan Kesler is carrying Vancouver at the moment; Kesler against Joe Thornton will be tons of fun to watch. Antti Niemi versus Roberto Luongo has the promise of a great goaltending duel. And despite a combined 19 points through two rounds, will Daniel or Henrik Sedin return to their MVP-calibre play that we're so used to seeing?
Each has shown the ability to slip up when they have the chance to close things out, so we're probably in for seven games of fun here, with each team coughing up the opportunity to win the West, but in the end the Canucks will get the all-important final victory.
Canucks in 7
We've been hard on the Canucks, and in fact, we're not sure we've picked them to win a single playoff round since the lockout. Until now. The Canucks' depth up front and Kesler's virtuoso play will carry Vancouver to the Cup finals.
Canucks in six.
The Hockey News is thinking the same thing:
Both teams in the Western Conference final had a golden opportunity to finish off their opponent quickly in the previous round and both let them up off the mat. It seems the Canucks and the Sharks are intent on doing things the hard way, which holds the promise for a lot of wild momentum swings in this series. If the Canucks can somehow get the Sedin twins going and Kesler continues to play like a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, they will be too much for the Sharks to contain.
Canucks in six.
Writing for Fox Sports, Andrew Bensch had this to say:
There are simply too many similarities between these two clubs and any advantages one could think of for one side can be quickly canceled out by a different advantage for the other.
In this season's playoffs both teams have been forced to a Game 7 after going up 3-0, and both won their other series in six games.
It's perfect example of a coin flip. Just so happens my coin landed on San Jose.
Prediction: Sharks in seven.
What is your prediction?