The hottest team in the NHL right now is the San Jose Sharks.
They are riding a wave of momentum into the playoffs where they're about to run into the fast yet physical Calgary Flames, who are ready to toast the Sharks' playoff dreams.
Each team has reason to be concerned that their quest for the Cup in 2008 will end early. Despite the powerhouse offenses that both teams are bringing to the table, Defense will be forced to shine for the victorious team.
The Sharks have an advantage at the blueline with their finesse defensemen. Recently acquired Brian Campbell will be forced to lead San Jose's defense with poise and veteran leadership.
San Jose's defense is too young to be considered elite. In clutch situations, it seems Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Christian Erhoff are too prone to disastrous turnovers.
Craig Rivet, Kyle McLaren, and Douglas Murray need to take the pressure off Campbell by bringing their best game to the table in order to shut down MVP candidate, Jarome Iginla.
San Jose had a smothering penalty kill during the second half of the regular season. They ranked 10th overall in the league in penalty kill for the 2007-2008 regular season.
On the penalty kill, Mike Grier and Curtis Brown will be relied upon for their gritty and relentless style of play. Expect to see Mike Grier score at least one shorthanded goal this series.
San Jose needs to focus on spreading the scoring. Joe Thornton cannot be relied upon to do everything, despite the fact that he and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov have been doing so in the second half of the season.
Joe Pavelski, Jeremy Roenick and Ryan Clowe will need to accelerate their scoring to assist Joe Thornton in the upcoming games.
The last and seemingly most important thing that the Sharks need to happen for their success is for annual playoff sleepers, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo to wake up and lead their team like they're supposed to.
These two need this to be the season they leave everything on the ice. They can't hold anything back. Staying healthy and being a presence on the ice will spell success in the end.
The Calgary Flames will truly have a handful on their hands. The San Jose Sharks will be coming out of the gates ready to play. They have three things that need to be addressed if they are going to win this series.
Jarome Iginla will need to dictate the pace of the game. If San Jose gets the advantage by controlling the flow and pace, Calgary is in trouble.
San Jose dooms themselves when they ease off of the accelerator and let the other team take control. Calgary will have to take advantage of these instances and capitalize with mass scoring.
Dion Phaneuf will need to throw his weight around. He will need to be physical, but mature. Taking penalties will doom the team, but physicality will earn them success.
San Jose isn't a physical team. They only have two real checkers: Jody Shelly and Douglas Murray. If Calgary can prove to be the more physical team, they have a huge advantage.
Last, but certainly not least, Kipper will need to be outstanding. He will need to revert back to his prime in 2003.
He is going to be the most important defensemen and penalty killer that Calgary has. If he's on fire, then San Jose is in trouble. If he can shut down Thornton, Cheechoo, Marleau, Michalek, Grier, Clowe and Roenick, then he will be giving Calgary a really good shot at this series.
The series kicks off Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at HP Pavilion in San Jose, with another game Thursday. The series heads over the border to Calgary on Sunday.