Fantasyhockey.com’s WCF Preview
Ian Gooding and I always go back and forth on the West more than the East and it is not just because of his beloved Vancouver Canucks. Here is his latest and then thanks to David Satriano, we have the East coming right behind it. This is all fantasy angle all the time so remember to check out fantasyhockey.com for the latest.
Before I start on the Western Conference Finals, let me review my Round 2 predictions:
I told you so. My dog, cat, or two-year-old son might do a better job at picking the next series than I will, but I’ll give it my best shot anyway.
(1) Vancouver vs. (2) San Jose
Canucks to add: Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Roberto Luongo
Possible sleepers: Mason Raymond, Chris Higgins, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo
Canucks to avoid: Mikael Samuelsson (injured) Cody Hodgson, Jannik Hansen, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, Maxim Lapierre, Victor Oreskovich, Manny Malhotra (injured), Keith Ballard, Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts, Cory Schneider
Sharks to add: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, Dan Boyle, Antti Niemi
Possible sleepers: Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Wellwood, Ian White
Sharks to avoid: Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager, Jason Demers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Niclas Wallin, Antero Niittymaki
One could argue that the Canucks and Sharks have been kindred spirits the past few seasons, as both teams have recently followed dominant regular seasons with “chokes” during the playoffs (kind of like some of my fantasy hockey teams). This season is no different, as the teams with the marine animal logos were forced to play Game 7s following holding seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series leads. Yet here we are in the middle of May, and somehow only the Sharks and Canucks are left in the Western Conference. Eventually the cream has to rise to the top.
Even though these two teams did not face each other in last year’s playoffs (or in any playoffs, for that matter), a rematch will take place between the two starting goalies. If you remember, Luongo was outplayed by Niemi during the Canucks’ six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks during last season’s playoffs. Niemi was the clear underdog in net going into that series, but he can’t be considered as much of an underdog this time. Both goalies’ play improved immensely during the second round, although Luongo enters the series with the better playoff ratios (2.25 GAA, .917 SV% to 3.10 GAA, .901 SV%). The San Jose version of Niemi struggled mightily against the Canucks (1-2-1, 3.64 GAA, .896 SV%), but keep in mind that he has more Stanley Cup rings than Luongo at this very moment.
The Canucks also bring more offense to the defense, led by former Shark Christian Ehrhoff (9 points in 13 games). However, Ehrhoff has also been the biggest liability defensively for the Canucks, as he is currently a (-7). Alexander Edler will also bring his power-play ability, although he has been held to just one power-play point during the playoffs. Dan Boyle has been a horse at both ends of the ice for the Sharks, bringing 11 points in 13 games along with strong defensive ability. It will be interesting to see how the Sedins fare against the thick (6’3”, 240 lb.) Douglas Murray, the fellow Swede with the non-Swedish name. The Canucks’ defense, thought to be one of its strengths, has been average at times during the playoffs. The Sharks’ defense, however, seems to thin out with solid but unspectacular options once you get past Boyle and Murray.
This series may be won or lost by a series of tight battles, but these teams clearly have the ability to make this a run-and-gun affair (Vancouver 1st in offense; San Jose 6th in offense during the regular season). Despite the position that both teams are in, there are plenty of forwards in this series that have been criticized for their inability to step their game up during the playoffs. What will happen if both teams’ forwards continue to underachieve? Have you ever been so surprised to see the one and two seeds facing each other as you have with these two teams?
The Sedins may have disappeared for much of the first two rounds, but keep in mind that they have been forced to face two of the top defensive pairings in the league (Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber/Ryan Suter). Expect them to have a slightly easier time with the Sharks, who will attempt to counter the twins with the Boyle/Murray pairing. If not for Ryan Kesler, it’s quite possible that the Canucks may not have made it out of Nashville. Kesler is currently tied with fellow two-way force Pavel Datsyuk for the playoff scoring lead (15 points each). Kesler’s name hardly appeared on the scoresheet until Game 3 against Nashville, but the rest is worthy of his own “History Will Be Made” NHL commercial (five goals and five assists in four games).
Meanwhile, the Sharks’ Team Canada trio (Thornton, Marleau, Heatley) will attempt to prove once again that they are in fact a group that can win the big one. Marleau was the most criticized Sharks’ player in their near-collapse in Round 2 (hello Jeremy!), although he scored the game-winner in Game 7 against Detroit following a pointless previous six games. The Sharks’ second and third units boast depth like no other teams, which may give the Sharks an advantage when the game is tied and a critical goal is needed. Keep in mind that Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture currently lead the Sharks with six goals each, while Ryane Clowe leads the Sharks in playoff scoring (13 points in 12 games) in spite of missing Game 6 against Detroit.
Prediction: Canucks in 7. Given both teams’ inability to close the deal in this year’s playoffs (4-8 in elimination games), this series promises to be a long one, but worth it for those who have to stay up late to watch. Following the pattern of this year’s playoffs, neither team will be out of it until one team has officially won the fourth game. A new hockey cliché, I know, but when was the last time that you witnessed not one, but TWO teams hold 3-0 leads followed by a Game 7 a week later? Like the previous Sharks/Red Wings and Canucks/Blackhawks series, this series promises to be a coin toss that shouldn’t fall short in the entertainment department. The Canucks may be the NHL’s regular season champs, but the Sharks may have been the NHL’s best team during the second half. What will be the difference in this series, you ask? You read it here first: the re-emergence of the Sedins.