With playoffs starting tonight, predictions on who will win each match up are starting to show up on just about all outlets that write about hockey. The good news for the Sharks is that all eyes are on two teams this year - Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals. While there are some authors who do mention the possibility of the Sharks going deep this year, very few go on the record predicting they will go all the way.
The lackluster first half of the season lowered everyone's expectations, and perhaps even our own. As hockey writers and fans stopped watching the Sharks in the second half, the memory of that first half remained in their minds. The continued dominance of the Canucks and the awakening of the Capitals didn't help the matters either.
And perhaps this is how it should be. I prefer the underdog role for the Sharks. No pressure from the outside - only from inside themselves. In a way, the Sharks position right now reminds me of the San Francisco Giants position last September. Remember how they were underdogs in just about every series and no one picked them before MLB playoffs started? That didn't end too bad.
As far as predictions for the eventual Stanley Cup winner, most writers pick the Canucks to win out, in the final against Washington Capitals.
With that said, things change rather quickly in the world of sports, and that's why we watch it. So for now, we'll focus on the first round predictions involving the Sharks. At least in this round, the Sharks are not the underdogs, and majority of predictions for the matchup against the LA favor San Jose. The summary is after the jump.
John "Marleau-to-the-Kings" Buccigross of ESPN calls Sharks-Kings a great matchup and that had Kopitar been healthy, he would have picked the Kings for sure. But otherwise, he'll "ignore the history" and will pick the Sharks in seven. The video is here. All the other ESPN writers picked the Sharks - mostly in five games.
Scott Cullen of TSN has his predictions up on his blog. He's confident that the Sharks got a favorable matchup in the first round, and it "is a better fate than what awaits the top-seeded Canucks." San Jose is too deep and has far too many weapons for the Kings to handle, so his pick is Sharks in five.
The Hockey News has a pretty good breakdown of all series matchups and how they stack up. They do mention that the Sharks average 5-on-5 play may be their downfall, as could be the penalty kill. They also for some unknown reason gave the goaltending edge to the Kings, completely ignoring the second half of the season Niemi had, to say nothing of his Stanley Cup ring versus Quick's two careers playoffs win in total. But in the end, they are still picking the Sharks. "San Jose made the 2010 Western Conference final with essentially the same core of players and were one of the hottest teams in this season's second half. The Kings have played through adversity, but losing two of their leading scorers - Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams - makes their chances of beating a hungry, veteran Sharks team exponentially more remote. Sharks in six."
All but one Yahoo hockey are writers are picking the Sharks to win out in the first round. The lone outlier is Dmitry Chesnokov, who is picking the Kings to upset the Sharks in seven game. Dmitry is the guy who predicted the Sharks to struggle during the regular season with the absence of good goaltending and make it into playoffs as an 8th seed. That turned out to be a pretty good prediction until Niemi and the rest woke up half way through the winter.
USA Today hockey writers posted their table of predictions for the post season. No surprise there, as they're mostly picking Vancouver to win the Cup. Kevin Allen and Brad Windsor are both picking the Sharks to go all the way on the shoulders on Antti's Niemi's MVP performance. There are also a couple of curious predictions picking the Ducks as the eventual Stanley Cup Champion. For more, take a look here.
Scott Morrison from CBC thinks that the loss of Anze Kopitar may be too big for the Kings and he's picking the Sharks in five. "The Sharks struggled in the first half, but after a six-game side to start January, have been on fire. They are deep up front, solid enough on the blue-line and Antti Niemi has won a Stanley Cup, eliminating that niggling doubt from the Sharks psyche. Jonathan Quick will have to steal this one for the Kings."
Lyle Richardson (aka Spector) is also picking the Sharks in five, hoping Thornton can overcome his "soft postseason play" reputation. "Both clubs possess strong goaltending and defense. The Sharks have considerably more scoring punch and the NHL's second-best power play, while the Kings had the fourth-best penalty kill."
We'll have our predictions for the series on this blog tomorrow.
What are yours?