With all the talk about parity in the NHL, we find ourselves with the last four Stanley Cup winners in the final four. I did not think the Los Angeles Kings were going to make it this far this season, but when you get goaltending like Quick is providing, all bets are off.
In contrast, I'm not at all surprised the Blackhawks are here, but I did not expect them to have as much trouble with the Red Wings as they did. That said, they did not face any adversity all season or in the first round of the playoffs. Once they were pushed in a corner, we saw what this team was really made of.
Let's take a closer look at the deciding factors between these two.
Both favorites, the Hawks and the Penguins, have dynamite offenses, but suspect goaltending. This is where we need to have most of our focus for this matchup. There is no denying that when the pressure is on, Quick rises to the top. He didn't have the best regular season. In fact, some could argue it was merely average. Yet, when we look at the stats page he is sitting with a .948 save percentage and the inside track to another Conne Smythe Trophy.
When I look back on my round one predictions for these two teams, I correctly predicted both series, and got them both wrong at the same time. I picked the Sharks to beat the Canucks, but did anybody think it would be a sweep? I also thought the Blues would put up a much better fight this time around and come out on top. They did put up a great fight and were very close to leaving L.A. with a 3-1 series lead before it all fell apart. Now we have a battle of California and given how well these two matchup against each other, it's anyone's guess who will skate away victorious. Though, from a betting perspective, there is only one clear choice.
If there's one series I don't feel good about picking, it's this one. There isn't a lot separating these teams and it could come down to random luck.
What is a Canucks preview without some goaltending discussion? The situation here is simple. Schneider is as good as they come in goal and if he's healthy, Vancouver is not a team I'd want to face. He can cover up for whatever flaws there might be in front of him and give his forwards enough time to find the back of the net. If for some reason he doesn't live up to expectations as the go-to guy, Luongo can come in as the sentimental underdog and do just fine. No one expected him to even be here, so if he's thrust into action to save the day it could be a nice final chapter to his days in Vancouver.
On the flip side, the Sharks will be relying solely on Niemi. That's not a bad thing because he's been great this season. I don't expect a dropoff in play unless something bizarre happens. With that said, I still give this duel to Schneider.
The Detroit Red Wings are sure to be one of the most popular upset picks of the first round. Sportsbooks have rightly made the Anaheim Ducks the favorites in this one, but this isn't a series that I see going the distance. Let's take a closer look at where the advantages lie.
The Wings have made the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year. That is a monumental accomplishment and Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Howard pretty much carried this team on their backs in the final four games of the regular season. These are great leaders with a lot of pride and they did everything in their power to make sure the streak didn't come to an end on their watch. The problem with all of this is, what now? This late season push certainly won't hide the flaws riddled throughout this team. Instead, many fans are chalking up the Ducks season to a fluke year due to the lockout shortened season.
In previous seasons a physical game with the San Jose Sharks would go something like this:
Sharks: Hey guy, that was dirty hit. That was really mean of you.
Opposing Player: Get over it man, we’re playing hockey. Oh is that your captain? I’m going to hit him in the back.
Sharks: You know what I think I should stand up for myself. I’m going to—oh looks like we already lost the game. Next time, I guess. Say, is Jeremy Roenick still playing?
And that’s how it has been for the last nine years. Every year, the Sharks would march in to the season with a ridiculously talented roster and then lose in the playoffs to a scrappy underdog whose only real accomplishment was leading the league in courage. This year, however, the Sharks are coming out with an edge and mowing down each opponent like it’s Chuck Norris versus the Teletubbies.
Take the Canucks tonight. Cheap shots galore. Early lead by the Sharks cut down to one on a bad luck deflection. Canucks pressing and causing a lot of turnovers in the Sharks’ zone. This would be where you expect the Sharks to begin to unravel.