Western Conference Finals Preview

Published on May 13th, 2011

Sharks Joe Thornton

 

Canucks Henrik Sedin

Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks

by Mike del Tufo

The WC Finals will begin Sunday with the #1 seed Canucks facing the #2 seed Sharks.  Both teams survived a Game 7 en route to this year’s Conference Finals.  Vancouver was pushed to the brink in the 1st round by the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose barely overcame the #3 seed Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round.  Both teams had a 3-0 lead in these series and then surrendered the next 3 games.  Each was able to avoid the embarrassment of losing the series though by pulling out a Game 7 victory on home ice.

The Canucks won the President’s Trophy as they compiled the best regular season record in the NHL in 2010-11.  They are the favorite of many to finally claim their 1st Stanley Cup.  In their 40 years of existence, they have been to the Finals twice.  The Sharks have never been to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 20 years of existence.

It should be a heated series as the top two Western Conference teams during the regular season vie to represent their Conference in the Finals.  The Canucks are poised to bring back the Cup to Canada with a dangerous Sharks team standing in their way.

Coaching

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault is in his 5th season leading the team.  He guided them to the President’s Trophy this regular season with the league’s best record at 54-19-9.  He has also led them to 4 Northwest Division titles.  This is his 1st time in the Conference Finals however.  He was also the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens for 3+ seasons.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan is in his 3rd season with the team.  He has guided them to 3 straight Pacific Division titles.  He led them to the Conference Finals last season where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. 

Edge:  Even

Offense

Logan Couture

The Canucks have 3 of the top forwards in the NHL in Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.  Henrik won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer last season and Daniel won it this season.  Kesler scored 41 goals this season and has 15 points in 13 playoff games so far to lead the team.  Vancouver also has a nice group of forwards to complement this trio in Alexander Burrow, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond, and Raffi Torres.  This team has a potent offense that will be tough to shut down.

The Sharks’ offense is every bit as impressive.  Unlike Vancouver, they have more of a balanced scoring attack.  They had seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season.  Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau each had over 30 goals while Dany Heatley had 26.  They also had 3 players (Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Dan Boyle) notching over 40 assists.    So far in the post-season, forward Ryan Clowe has led the team in scoring with 13 points with Couture right behind him.  With the Sharks, an opposing team cannot focus all of their attention on just one line as there is a lot of talent throughout their line-up.

Edge:  Even

Defense

The Sharks have a top defensemen in Dan Boyle.  He is one of best offensive defensemen in the league notching 50 points during the season.  He is clearly the leader on the blue-line that could use an upgrade.  Youngster Jason Demers is an up-and-coming defenseman who could one day replace Boyle as the teams’s #1 defenseman.  After that, the Sharks defensive corps is a little thin and will probably have a tough time dealing with the Sedin twins and Kesler.

Alexander Edler

Vancouver’s defense is very balanced from top to bottom.  There is no Norris Trophy candidate as the league’s top defenseman but there is not a huge fall-off from their #1 to their #6 like most teams have either.  They had 4 defensemen who scored 20 points or more during the regular season in Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis, and Kevin Bieksa.  They are a solid squad that provides strong support for goaltender Roberto Luongo.

Edge:  Vancouver

Goaltending

Not too many Stanley Cup-winning goalies have gotten less respect than Antti Niemi has.  He won the Cup last season with the Blackhawks and they opted not to retain his services.  He went on to sign with the Sharks and had a strong season going 35-18-6 with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage.  He also had 6 shut-outs.  He is now in the unusual position of being back in the Western Conference Finals as a member of the team he helped eliminate in last season’s Conference Finals.    Niemi is a good, capable goalie who can keep the Sharks in a game but rarely wins one on his own.

Roberto Luongo was a stellar goalie for the Canucks this regular season where he posted some impressive number in a 38-15-7 record, a 2.11 goals-against-average and a .928 save percentage.  He has typically been super-human during the regular season but less so in the playoffs.  Last season he was shaky as the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in the 2nd round.  He will need to demonstrate more mental toughness for the Canucks to finally claim the Stanley Cup.  He is certainly a goaltender who can steal games for his team.

Edge:  Vancouver

Playoff Experience:

Canucks winger Mikael Samuelsson won a Stanley Cup in 2008 as a member of the Red Wings.  Defenseman Aaron Rome has a Stanley Cup ring as a member of the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks

Five members of the Sharks have previously sipped from the Stanley Cup:  defenseman Dan Boyle (Tampa Bay ’04), Kent Huskins (Anaheim ’07), and Niclas Wallin (Carolina ’06), goalie Antti Niemi (Chicago ’10), and forward Ben Eager (Chicago ’10).   

Prediction:  Canucks in 6 games

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