Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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West Conference Final Preview

Sunday, May 15, 2011


(1) VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS. (2) SAN JOSE SHARKS

The two best teams from the NHL's 2010-11 regular season will meet each other in the Western Conference Finals when the Vancouver Canucks clash with the San Jose Sharks. The Canucks finished the year with a league-best 117 points, while the Sharks had 105. Vancouver made their way to the Western finals by eliminating the Nashville Predators in six games. San Jose avoided being just the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after being up 3-0 by sending the Detroit Red Wings packing in seven contests.

There are an astounding number of parallels that can be drawn between these two clubs. They are both known for being excellent in the regular season but woefully ineffective come playoff time. The Canucks almost lived up to that reputation this year standing by squandering a 3-0 series lead against Chicago in the opening round, but they managed to win Game Seven on home ice to get into the second round just as San Jose did in the semi-finals against Detroit. The Sharks and Canucks were also pushed hard by their other post-season opponents, the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, respectively, despite appearing to be the far superior teams on paper.

Vancouver's dynamic duo of Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have come under fire for coming up dry during stretches the playoffs. In San Jose, Patrick Marleau has been the focal point of attention for all the wrong reasons and Joe Pavelski will look to rebound from a lackluster performance in the previous round. The Canucks have been led emotionally and offensively by the gritty work of Ryan Kesler, and Ryane Clowe has stepped up in a similar fashion with the Sharks. San Jose netminder Antti Niemi and Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo had rocky starts to the post-season, but they got back on track in the semi-finals with strong performances.

The Sharks and Canucks are quick and talented teams, each with a great deal to prove in this series. Whichever team can get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals will go a long way to silencing their doubters. San Jose has tremendous depth at the forward position, while Vancouver probably possesses the better defense corps. In goal, the Sharks feature a Stanley Cup winner with Niemi, and Luongo has an Olympic gold medal to his name. The Canucks won three of the four meetings they had with the Sharks this year and three of the games were decided by one goal.

The Western Conference Finals will be a hotly contested match-up, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that this is San Jose's year to get past the third round. The Sharks will relish the opportunity to play the role of the underdog against the President Trophy-winning Canucks as it's one that they have not been afforded much during their past playoff failures. The Canucks have several key players in slumps and their offense hasn't really clicked in the post-season. Niemi will also be playing with confidence against Vancouver after he sent them packing from post-season play last year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. A case can be made for either team, but after much deliberation, I like the Sharks in seven games.

Here are the projected lineups for both teams, but keep in mind that combinations are subject to change on a game-to-game and shift-to-shift basis.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Christopher Higgins - Ryan Kesler - Mason Raymond
Raffi Torres - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Jeff Tambellini - Cody Hodgson - Tanner Glass
Mikael Samuelsson - Victor Oreskovich

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Christian Ehrhoff
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

WHO'S HOT

Ryan Kesler carried the Canucks on his back in the second round with five goals and 11 points in five games to vault himself into the 2011 playoff scoring lead. Prior to his scoring tear against Nashville, he had generated just four assists in eight contests. Daniel Sedin has posted three points in his past four games, but his minus-6 rating over that span is a cause for concern. Henrik Sedin has also mixed the good with the bad of late, with four points in his last three appearances to go with a minus-2 rating. He had been held pointless in four games before that, though.

WHO'S NOT

Alex Burrows had a quiet series against the Predators with one goal and one assist in six matches. Mason Raymond snapped a four-game point drought with a goal and a helper in the final two games of round two, but his total of five points in 13 contests leaves a lot to be desired. Chris Higgins has also been in a funk offensively for Vancouver with only three markers and four points in 13 games.

NOTES

Mikael Samuelsson isn't expected to be available for Game One because of a lower-body injury. He sat out Game Six against Nashville with the ailment and it's unclear when he might be available to return. Manny Malhotra skated at practice on May 12, but his eye injury will keep him on the sidelines for an indefinite period of time.

Samuelsson was replaced with Jeff Tambellini in Game Six on Vancouver's fourth line. It was his NHL playoff debut. Higgins moved up to the second unit as a result of the lineup changes. He played with a sore foot after blocking a shot in Game Five, but he isn't projected to miss any action. Keith Ballard suited up in the first two contests of the semi-finals, but sat as a healthy scratch for four straight times afterward. Andrew Alberts also saw limited action against the Predators with one appearance in the series. Both of them appear to have lost their spot on the Canucks' blueline to Aaron Rome.

Ryan Kesler has taken the most draws in the playoffs, at 344, and he has won 53.8 percent of them.

Vancouver's power play has scored eight goals on 36 opportunities, while their penalty kill has yielded seven tallies in 50 shorthanded situations. The Canucks are rated fifth overall in both special teams categories in the post-season.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Dany Heatley
Torrey Mitchell - Joe Pavelski - Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager - Scott Nichol - Benn Ferriero
Jamal Mayers - Jamie McGinn

Douglas Murray - Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Niclas Wallin - Ian White
Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Antero Niittymaki

WHO'S HOT

Ryane Clowe has collected six assists in his past five games. He leads the Sharks in scoring with 13 points in 12 playoff contests. Rookie forward Logan Couture has carried over his outstanding play from the regular season into the post-season with 12 points in 13 games. The Calder Trophy nominee will enter the third round with a four-game goal scoring streak. Sharks' rearguard Dan Boyle registered two goals and six helpers in seven matches against Detroit. He leads all defensemen in playoff scoring, with 11 points in 13 games.

WHO'S NOT

Patrick Marleau had been ice cold before netting the game-winning marker in Game Seven against the Red Wings. He had gone six consecutive games without a point before getting the monkey of his back with his third goal of the post-season. Joe Pavelski notched two goals and one assist in seven games in the second round.

NOTES

Ryane Clowe got back into San Jose's lineup in Game Seven after missing the previous match with an upper-body injury. He played a strong game with linemates Logan Couture and Dany Heatley and should be fine going forward. The Sharks appear to be relatively healthy going into the Western Conference Finals.

San Jose has tinkered with their fourth line in the post-season thus far. Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager, Benn Ferriero and Jamie McGinn have all dressed for the Sharks in the post-season. Expect coach Todd McLellan to continue making minor adjustments to his lineup against the Canucks. The only permanent fixture on the roster in a fourth-line role is center Scott Nichol.
Joe Thornton has emerged victorious on 60.6 percent of the 244 faceoffs he has taken in the post-season.

The Sharks have found the back of the net seven times on 51 attempts with the man advantage in the post-season. Their penalty killing has allowed eight goals on 52 shorthanded situations.









Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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