2011 NHL Playoffs: San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks meet in the Western Conference Finals

The Western Conference Finals schedule was released about two days ago but it stands to reason many of you missed it-- considering San Jose and Detroit were duking it out in the closest playoff series in NHL history at the time, glancing forward to the Western Conference Finals seemed like a risky endeavor (not to mention some bad juju).

With that in mind here is what the Sharks will be looking at in terms of scheduling. Adjust yours accordingly.

San Jose vs. Vancouver Second Round Schedule

Date Location Time (PST)
G1 Sun May 15th
@ Vancouver
5:00 Versus
G2 Wed May 18th
@ Vancouver
6:00 Versus
G3 Fri May 20th
@ San Jose
6:00 Versus
G4 Sun May 22nd
@ San Jose
12:00 NBC
G5 Tue May 24th
@ Vancouver
6:00 Versus
G6 Thu May 26th
@ San Jose
6:00 Versus
G7 Sat May 28th
@ Vancouver
5:00 Versus

As is the norm, the Western Conference Finals means CSN-CA's coverage will end.

While I'm sure many of you feel like you need at least three days to decompress from the nerve-wracking-sanity-destroying epicness that was game seven at HP Pavilion last night, life provides no such luxury. The San Jose Sharks have a mere two days to prepare for their upcoming battle with the Vancouver Canucks, setting in motion what is bound to be another mentally and physically challenging series with an elite Western Conference foe.

Vancouver is a team that resembles the 2009-201 Chicago Blackhawks in many ways-- although it is clear that they do not have the ridiculous amount of offensive depth that the Hawks possessed during their Cup run, their blueline is perhaps the deepest unit in the National Hockey League and should pose a considerable challenge for a Sharks forward group that has earned rave reviews for their depth and scoring spread.

According to our friends at Nucks Misconduct, here is what you can expect from Vancouver to start game one. However, keep in mind that Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault may have worked at Jamba Juice throughout his college days-- he's notorious for running his squad through the ol' blender, mixing the ingredients of his lines constantly throughout the course of a game:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Raffi Torres - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Tanner Glass - Cody Hodgson - Mikael Samuelsson

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Christian Ehrhoff - Alex Edler
Keith Ballard - Sami Salo

>> Nucks Misconduct

The Canucks top line of Burrows and the Sedins is clearly their most dangerous unit, a great blend of players who are adept at cycling the puck and wearing down an opposing blueline. And while they have struggled to find the back of the net this postseason, a hard look at the scoring chances indicates they be poised to break out soon. Furthermore, when one considers the talent they have gone up against thus far (Weber-Suter in Nashville, Keith-Seabrook in Chicago). San Jose does not have a top pairing that matches those units in terms of shutdown ability, and will instead have to rely upon the strong team defense that has carried the day for them thus far.

Ryan Kesler is having a phenomenal postseason for Vancouver. Even though he didn't have a strong scoresheet against Chicago the chances were there, and that paid off against Nashville. He's a premier two-way player who defines what it means to be able to beat you in all three zones. Mason Raymond is an able bodied goal scorer with tremendous speed, while Chris Higgins is proving to be one of the best trade deadline acquisitions made this year.

The rest of Vancouver's forwards have a blend of goal scoring ability and toughness. Names like Raffi Torres should be familiar to many Sharks fans, while Jannik Hansen and Mikael Samuelsson all add some requisite scoring depth. The loss of Manny Malhotra to eye injury does make the unit a little less opposing, especially in the faceoff circle, but there is no doubt the team has some tools down below that makes them a little harder to match up against than Detroit all the way through.

Where Vancouver truly shines is on the backend, with probably the deepest defensive unit in the National Hockey League. Each pairing has both offensive and defensive ability, making them one of the toughest front to back bluelines the Sharks will face this postseason (trumping even that of Los Angeles). Players like Christian Ehrhoff (who Sharks fans will also remember) and Keith Ballard are the likely targets for San Jose's offensive attack, and Todd McLellan will undoubtedly attempt to get his top line out against them with the last change at home.

Kevin Bieksa, who was surrounded by trade rumors this offseason, has had an excellent bounce back year for the Canucks and brings with him a nastiness that manifests itself in some strong physical play. Perhaps the most underrated player on Vancouver's back end is Alexander Edler-- he flies under the radar much in the way Marc-Edouard Vlasic does, but possesses an uncanny knack for covering his partner's mistakes.

Roberto Luongo in net is probably the biggest question mark for Vancouver going into this series. He has a propensity to give up big goals at the wrong times, with a large amount of these situations presenting themselves against the Nashville Predators. While his "mental health" has been questioned by many outside of the organization, there is no doubt Luongo is one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League today. We highlighted his ability to steal a series before the postseason began, and while I may be alone in thinking this, I believe Luongo is going to have a phenomenal series in net for the Canucks. Luongo has begun to play much further back in his crease as his career has gone along which is probably the Sharks greatest opportunity this series-- he won't challenge shots like he used to, meaning San Jose will have to capitalize on their first shots (and will have much better opportunity to do so considering the angles will be beneficial). Rebounds will be handled well by the Canucks blueline and Luongo's entrenchment on the goal line means the cross-crease feed will not be as fortiutous. He'll go head to head with Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi throughout.

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.

We'll have more as the weekend leads us to Sunday.