San Jose got the matchup it wanted. The Nashville Predators hung on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, giving the Sharks home ice in the second stanza of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So now, the Sharks are back in familiar territory. They're favorites again.
With the Blackhawks, Kings and Ducks all knocked out of the playoffs, the Western Conference is wide open. The Dallas Stars are the only team in the conference with a Stanley Cup to their name and the Sharks and Predators are both looking for their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
So okay, this is familiar territory for the Sharks. They're favorites, much like they have been in playoffs past. While some certainly relished the underdog role of San Jose against the Kings, it's (in my opinion) in the Sharks' best interest to take on a team that quite frankly isn't as good as Anaheim. Lots of wacky stuff happens in the playoffs — the Predators beating the Ducks in a seven game series, for instance, but the Sharks should feel confident entering the second round of postseason play.
Nashville holds a slight edge in even-strength possession play, but the Sharks superiority in special teams and in net should give San Jose fans hope entering this series. Yes, Pekka Rinne is a goaltender that can steal a series, but game seven notwithstanding the Finnish netminder just hasn't been all that good this season. To me, the key to a Sharks' series win lies in the power play.
San Jose are tied with the Islanders for the best penalty differential (+7) in the playoffs thus far. The Predators took 29 penalties (and drew 29) against the Ducks and routinely lacked anything resembling discipline. Nashville managed to overcome that to beat the Ducks, the top power play (by rate) in the league, but playing with fire with that frequency should be a concern for the Predators.
The Sharks' went 1-2 against Nashville during the regular season, but both losses came in one-goal games which leads me to believe that San Jose is pretty even with this Predators squad. While Nashville has a slight possession edge, the Sharks' advantages in both special teams and goaltending should make them the clear-cut favorite in this series as well as in the Western Conference Finals.
As always, being the favorite is no guarantee of success. Just ask the Kings how being picked almost unanimously worked out for them. Still, if given the choice it's unquestionably better for team teal to get a matchup with a team that just isn't as good as the squad they just (deservedly) dispatched. Nothing is easy in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Sharks have as good a chance as anyone to hoist the Stanley Cup this year.
That's pretty great.