Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sharks/Blackhawks Series Preview

It's on. This is the way it was supposed to be, right? The two top teams in the Western Conference will face off in a 7-game series to decide who will go to the Stanley Cup Finals and be the overwhelming favorite.

That is true. No matter who comes out of the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Bruins/Flyers or Canadians, the team that wins the Sharks/Blackhawks series will be without a doubt the clear favorite to win the Cup.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Sharks are the best team going, the only thing knocking this team is the fact they have been at a stand still since they defeated the Red wings in 5 games in what feels to be a month ago. They want to get out on the ice while they're hot.

Honestly, the Blackhawks are the favorite in this series. They have recent momentum since beating the Canucks, plus they went 3-1 against the Sharks during the regular season.

But the Sharks have several things going their way that have not been talked about. How about the fact that Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi has never played against the Sharks? Or how about the Sharks are playing a much better form of hockey than they were in the regular season?

The tipping point in this series may be that one point that separated the Sharks as the #1 seed in the West and the Blackhawks as the #2 seed. The Sharks have home-ice advantage, and we all saw what that team and those fans can do once in their home arena. The "Nabby" chants start going, the Jaws music start playing. Everything is better at The Sharks Tank. Unless you're the opposing team, then that stuff just gets annoying.

Bottom line is this is going to be a series for the ages. Two teams who have similar styles of play, and just as much equal talent on the ice. The last time we saw this sort of match-up was, well, last series when the Sharks played the Red Wings.

One thing bothers me, though. I cannot help but think back to the game on November 25th when the Sharks and Blackhawks met up. The final score was 7-2 in favor of the Blackhawks in a game where the Blackhawks made the superior Sharks look ridiculous. They outhustled and outperformed the Sharks. Will there be a difference in how the Sharks prepare for this team in this series? There better be, they would have had 8 days between series to do so.

If the Sharks are to knock off the Blackhawks, they will need more contribution from their 1st line than ever. We saw this in the last couple of games in the Red Wings series. The Red Wings' primary focus was on Joe Pavelski since he was tearing them up in the previous games. In response, the Sharks' 1st line showed up and was the reason why the series didnt go to a Game 6 or 7.

Fasten your seatbelts for this one, folks. This is a series made for it to go the distance, and I don't doubt we will see anything but that.

My prediction: Home-ice will play a huge role in this series and the Sharks will be fortunate that they got that last point to get the #1 seed in the West and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Sharks in 7.

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