NHL Playoffs: Sharks See a Familiar Foe in Round Two

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks See a Familiar Foe in Round Two
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
The Red Wings brought the Coyotes crashing back down to earth with a 6-1 rout in Game 7, and in that very moment as the Coyotes' Cinderella season came to a crashing halt, the Red Wings again reminded everyone exactly why they are Hockeytown.

I thought before the game that Coyotes had a chance in Game 7 at home, playing hard-nosed, inspired hockey and would prove a tough test for the Wings.

When Vernon Fiddler scored right off the faceoff in the middle of the second period, the Coyotes closed within one and seemed back in the game.

To make things worse for the Red Wings, Drew Miller and Darren Helm drew back-to-back penalties to create a two-man advantage later in the second period.

This had the makings of the Coyotes tying the game and coming back to beat the Red Wings, who on the road in Game 7 had sported an un-Red Wing like 1-3 record.

Someone forgot to tell the Red Wings they were supposed to lose.

Their response was classic Red Wing hockey as they clinically dissected the Coyotes defense, with Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk leading the way.

Instead of allowing the tying goal, they turned up their play and simply took a paddle to the Coyotes. As I watched in disbelief, I thought about our Sharks facing the Wings in round 2, and what the differences are between are teams.

Besides the very obvious in coaching styles and systems, both teams play very similar hockey and conduct themselves in a very calculating and professional manner and especially in the playoffs.

What makes the Red Wings different than the Sharks? I will tell you; they have exactly what the Sharks don't, they are yin to the Sharks yang, the very same steely resolve and nerve that creates and forges a playoff performer is what the Sharks lacked in the past.

And Game 7 in Phoenix should tell you the Red Wings have these traits in spades all up and down their roster.

Here are my keys to the series against the Red Wings in Round 2.

Win Game 1
It is no secret that the Sharks struggle in Game 1, whether by coincidence or lack of focus we just can't seem to win the ever important Game 1.
Given our past struggles in the playoffs and our seemingly endless black hole of unconfident play, it is VITAL to win Game 1 in this series.

Our stars must show up
I know Jumbo wants to disprove his critics and I know he doesn't want the stigma of playoff underperformer to tag his otherwise great career. However unfair or loud his critics may be, they are deserved in their chorus of disapproval.
Joe Thornton must have the playoff series of his life for us to have a chance. Patrick Marleau has flashed signs late in the Colorado series but he also must step it up and be willing to pay the price for us to continue further in the playoffs.
The few days of rest in-between closing out the Avalanche has given Heatley a chance to recover.

Our second and third lines must continue to play hard
Joe Pavelski , Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe have carried the Sharks through the first round, and they must continue to play hard with clutch play.
The youngsters such as Logan Couture , Scott Nichol  and Jamie McGinn  must continue to set the tempo when they are on the ice and take the body against the veteran Red Wing defense and hopefully slow them down.

Win the special teams battle
As much as people want to laud the Red Wings forwards such as Pavel Datsyuk , Tomas Holmstrom , Henrik Zetterberg , and Johan Franzen , the Red Wings that scare me are their defense.
If we are not careful in the special teams play, guys like Brian Rafalski , Niklas Kronwall , the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom , and some kid named Brad Stuart  are the ones that will hurt us.

Get in front of Jimmy Howard  
This is as simple and straightforward as it gets. The rookie has had his ups and downs during the playoffs thus far, but if he sees the puck he will stop it - sound familiar?
The Sharks must come in with the right mindset as to when to shoot, how to crash the net and how to get under the young goaltender's skin.
One only needs to take a look at how horribly the Coyotes handled the 5-3 power play in Game 7 to understand what I mean here.

Communicate
Every game thus far in the playoffs has had one if not more lapses in concentration or lack of communication leading to some sort of odd turnover, or ugly looking breakout.
Every facet of our game must be on point if we want to beat the Red Wings; we can't let something as simple as miscommunication hurt us when there's plenty of playoff-seasoned Red Wings who are more than happy to.
Last of all, my final key is Evgeni Nabokov  and many people know I have my doubts about him after last year's early exit. This series will have quite a bit more pressure and skill involved.
Instead of T.J. Galiardi  and Brandon Yip taking the shots, it will be the deep and talented Red Wings taking it to the goalie.
This is Nabby's best shot at cementing a place in Sharks playoff lore, to quiet the whispers, and finally put his team on his back and carry them to a win against the Red Wings that would do wonders for both him and the team.
He has got to steal some games in this series, as all elite goalies do in the playoffs.

This series will be the ultimate test in our voyage to the Stanley Cup Finals, and while I do not relish the fact we are facing the Red Wings I suppose it's only poetic justice we draw them in Round 2.
If the odd bounces in the first series and resilience to bounce back from those bad breaks continues to manifest itself in our play, I think we just might shock the world.

Go Sharks
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