It’s hard to argue that the Sharks are the hottest team going into the playoffs.
Sure, they cooled a little in the last two, basically insignificant, games of the season. But I think this team will beat Calgary in a fairly handy fashion.
I don’t mean any disrespect to the Flames organization. Iginla is worthy of hype and admiration after having a career year (50-48-98). Tanguay, Langkow, and Huelius are bound to back him up in offensive punch.
The Flames, however, simply do not have the depth to match the offensive production in the Sharks roster. Team Teal is skating three solid lines that can throw up numbers, and they are also getting key goals from a number of players.
That said, the San Jose powerhouse players will have to step up to keep winning games.
Thorntonwill have to shoot the puck more, and he has proven willing to do so and shown greater success of late. Patrick Marleau will have to continue building on his streak and find the fire that he has had in the playoffs of the past.
The Sharks are also fortunate that Jonathan Cheechoo has returned to the lineup, as he and veteran Jeremy Roenick seem to add a particular spark to the team.
Equally as important (of course, everything is crucial in the playoffs) will be the defensive performance. The Sharks’ forward lines will need to be sharp on defense and in the forecheck, something that I think may have gotten too relaxed at the end of the season.
The Flames are a very physical team. Dion Phaneuf is one of the most talked-about blue-liners in the league, and rightly so.
In anticipation of tough teams, Doug Wilson wisely beefed up the Sharks this season. I think the addition of Jody Shelley will help dampen the notion that they are a team that can be run over without much threat of retaliation.
In light of recent play against the Ducks, and their final game in Dallas where they racked up more than 90 penalty minutes, the Sharks appear ready for that kind of matchup.
Yet it’s always a good thing to keep time in the box at a minimum, especially with teams as skilled on the Power Play as these two are—although San Jose has an advantage in that category.
The Sharks got into a groove that relied on special teams goals in the last week of the regular season, so I’m going to be looking for more five-on-five scoring.
And then there’s poor old Kipper. I think Nabokov could beat him in a staring contest, at this point. Kiprusoff needs to be respected on the ice, but the overall lack of consistency this season will be their undoing in the playoffs.
One of the keys for the Sharks is, and always will be, the psychological game. The “already beaten” mentality got to them in the second round against Detroit last year, so I think it is fortunate that they are coming into this series in a strong position.
I also think that it was probably good to lose a couple on the way in, just to keep the confidence level from getting too out of hand. They have not had to face Calgary in the postseason for several years, so there isn’t much emotional baggage to carry.
This is a San Jose Sharks team that is favored for the Cup, and I think they are in a better position to take it than ever before.
The Precarious Prognostication: While Calgary will put up a fight, the Sharks are ready to dominate. San Jose in 5.
It’s going to be a wild night at the tank. Game one is tonight at 7 p.m.