Around the League: San Jose's Time?
And here we are, Round 3 around the corner, with Round 2 seems to last a century with two Game 7s and the Sharks resting for a week now.
But with Boston Bruins completing the biggest meltdown in playoffs history, it's time to look ahead as hockey writers around the world are turning their focus on the conference finals. I don't know how anyone finds any courage to predict anything anymore. I have not seen a single bracket before playoffs began that had the Sharks facing the Blackhawks in the conference final, let alone the Flyers facing the Canadiens. But they do have to give their predictions and preview the series, so let's take a look at what are they saying about the upcoming Western Conference finals between the top two teams in the West.
Plenty of material about the series is already posted in Chicago's media. Chris Kuc if Chicago Tribune thinks that the key match up in the series is Chicago's defense vs the HTML line.
It's one tough defensive challenge after another for the Blackhawks.
After hand-cuffing the Canucks' top offensive line featuring the talented Sedin brothers - Henrik and Daniel - in the Western Conference semifinals, the Hawks now have to find a way to do the same to the Sharks' No. 1 trio of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau in the conference finals .
His colleague in the paper Steve Rosenbloom disagrees, as he thinks that Joe Thornton is still a "No-Show Joe." His logic is based solely on the fact that Thornton is -6 in these playoffs. For someone who humbly states in his bio that he "smoked cigars with Michael Jordan, Mike Ditka and Red Auerbach", this is a surprisingly lazy analysis. But after taking multiple stabs at Thornton, he proceeds that actually, yes, the Sharks are still dangerous because of someone else on the team.
Pavelski, though, is the key. He's the guy. He's what Thornton was always supposed to be in April and May and June. The player whom teammates have taken to calling "The Big Pavelski'' has come up big with nine goals in 11 playoff games this spring. His 15 points tie him with Patrick Kane for fourth in playoff scoring among active players, but Pavelski leads the postseason with five power-play goals, is tied for first with three game-winners, and is a plus-7, best among players still chasing Lord Stanley's chalice.
Of course. It's all about plus/minus, isn't it? Someone should send him a video of the Detroit series. Perhaps he was too busy smoking cigars.
Mike Helka, previewing the game for Versus, notes that a lot will be decided in Game 1 of the series.
So quite honestly, anything could happen when the Western Conference final starts Sunday afternoon. But I get the feeling Game 1 will tell us a lot. If the Blackhawks can find a way to win - and possibly win going away - the Sharks very well could have memories of previous meltdowns against Dallas and Anaheim leap into HP Pavilion. If the Sharks can set a pace, they can gain confidence and make that trip to United Center knowing it hasn't been that scary (3-3 for the Hawks) so far in the post-season.
It will be a very interesting struggle for two teams that have not yet been able to succeed in a situation like this.
The Canadian Press takes a comprehensive statistical look at the upcoming series, noting, for example, that no Shark have ever matched up against any of the Blackhawks players in any previous playoffs series, which is remarkable, if you consider the playoffs experience of players on both teams. They are feeling that the time for San Jose has come.
OUTLOOK: Sharks finally swim away from disappointment to reach finals for the first time. San Jose in 6.
The Hockey News has traditionally liked the Sharks, and have picked them to go deep every year since the lockout, including this year. Their faith in the Sharks continues. However, I was surprised that they are giving the defensive edge to the Sharks, while giving an edge in goal to the Blackhawks, because that view is the opposite view we've taken here at Fear the Fin. THN goes on and cites the negative playoff mojo that Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa bring to the table. But either way, they think the Sharks will win in seven.
The two best teams in the West are near mirror images in terms of their offensive pop, defensive sturdiness and puck-possession strategy. But San Jose brings a whole lot of beef to the forward lines and Chicago doesn't exactly have a punishing defense corps to repel them with.
No formal prediction from ESPN yet, but their correspondent Pierre LeBrun is in town covering the game. His first impression of what San Jose is like during playoffs this year is a good one, and by the sound of the rest of the article, his sympathy is with the Sharks.
Let's be honest, many people around the hockey universe are cheering for the script that has Chicago ending a 49-year Cup drought against the 24-time Cup champion Canadiens. But there are also some in the industry who would quietly cheer for a Cup triumph in San Jose. People around the league know how well this franchise has been run, both in hockey operations and the marketing/business side.
On the hockey side, a Cup win would vindicate years of patient roster building. It would compensate a franchise that didn't bottom out in the standings in order to draft its core players. There's something to be said for that.
And there's something to be said for this terrific hockey town in Northern California.
More previous for the series will come out today and tomorrow. As you come accross the new articles, feel free to share them in the comments.