Editor's Note: Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals between San Jose and Detroit ended after this edition went to press Friday night. Read more about it in the Michigan sports section on mininggazette.com. As the two teams have a playoff re-match, we have a point/counter-point rematch. As San Jose won last year's series 4-1, Daver Karnosky, a Sharks fan who writes about hockey for the Michigan Tech Lode and USCHO.com, will lead off and I will rebut on behalf of Red Wings fans everywhere.
Why the Sharks will
Despite needing six games to dispatch of the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks stand poised to do the same thing they did last season, send the Detroit Red Wings packing in the second round. After delivering a 4-1 blow to the Wings last spring, the Sharks won three of the four matchups this season, which should bode well for this series.
This is a different Sharks team than the one that beat the Wings last spring. Winger Ryane Clowe had a breakout season with 62 points and then added seven more against the Kings. Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture has a full season under his belt, and he picked up two goals and five points against the Kings. Center Joe Pavelski added three goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1.
Two others hold the key to this series, however. Captain Joe Thornton, who scored the series-winner in overtime on Monday, seems to finally ready to shed his playoff demons, scoring five points in the first round. Goaltender Antti Niemi, who did struggle against the Kings, was the goaltender of record in all three Sharks victories this season over the Wings. He did not start the lone loss.
Late season additions Kyle Wellwood, Ben Eager, and Ian White have all acclimatized themselves to life on the West Coast. White notched five assists in round one to lead all Sharks defensemen, and Wellwood was the Sharks' best defensive forward, finishing a plus-6 for the series.
This should be a great series.
After R&R, Red Wings will roll
Daver, the Sharks may be different, but the Red Wings just as good with one big change: rest.
In 2010, the pesky Coyotes extended their first-round series to seven games. This year, they were kind enough to start packing for Winnipeg by Game 2, leading to a four-game sweep, and maybe more importantly, just one trip to the Southwest and more than a week without going through the playoff meat grinder, an even more important factor when one considers how many old (Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi) or banged-up (Henrik Zetterberg) players are on Detroit's bench.
That was the difference in 2010, The Red Wings scored more goals and won just one game. All four Detroit losses were by a single goal - a few tallies here and there and the Wings move on.
As for the Sharks, they went six games with an LA team missing its best player (Anze Kopitar) that was generally regarded as dead in the water before the playoffs even started.
Joe Thornton can get it done in the first round at Staples Center, but when the chips are down against a team that can actually match up, I doubt he will be the overtime hero.
The Sharks have a fair fight on their hands and they're going to lose it. Wings in five.