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NHL's Western (and Stanley Cup) Champ: 'Hawks or Sharks?

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 22: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks shots the puck past Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on December 22, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Sharks defeated the Blackhawks 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Ryan PopilchakCorrespondent IMay 15, 2010

If you missed my predictions for the Eastern Conference Finals, go take a look .

The East Finals will be flooded with stories about which Cinderella has the more dainty glass slipper.  Here’s a tip for you though, it doesn’t matter.  The West has two powerhouse teams playing and whoever wins the West will win the Cup. 

Just in case you don’t trust me, take a look at the breakdown of these two teams and then flip back to the underlying stats of Montreal and Philly, you’ll see my point.

 

Chicago vs San Jose

The Blackhawks and Sharks were the top 2 teams in the West during the regular season, and for good reason.  They dominated goal differential at Even Strength (ES), both had top 10 power play and top 10 penalty kill units.

If there was one edge in the regular season, it was a massive one for the Blackhawks as they dominated the shot count with a +11.3 Fenwick/60 while San Jose suffered a -1.4 F/60 at ES.

In the playoffs it’s been a slightly different story.  Take a look:

While both teams haven’t been quite as dominant on goal differential at ES, that’s to be expected since the level of competition in the playoffs is higher than the regular season. 

The more telling, and likely series-swinging difference, is the ‘Hawks incredible play on special teams versus the Sharks slight dip.  If both regress back to the mean and mimic their regular season performance, it’s a stalemate.

The Fenwick rates have had a monstrous change since the regular season, but I chalk that up to San Jose “padding their stats” against a Fenwick/Corsi-starved Avalanche team.

As for goaltending, I essentially consider Nabokov and Niemi to be relative equals, with one caveat.  Nabokov has a career 91.2% save rate while Niemi’s is 91.0%.  Unfortunately for Chicago, they really don’t know what they have in Niemi.  He’s played less than a full season in the NHL and therefore may be outplaying or underperforming his true talent level.  With Nabby, we can be quite certain of the talent level he has.

While most people believe the Sharks leader, Joe Thornton has finally got rid of his playoff curse, I’m not so sure .  Unless he finds a way to step it up, they may be at the mercy of his inability to play well in the playoffs.

As for the Blackhawks, their leader, Jonathan Toews has been outstanding with 3.12 pts per 60 min and a Corsi rate of +14.88 per 60 in the playoffs.

The player to watch though, in my mind, is Dustin Byfuglien.  Not only is he a freight train of flesh, he’s due for a breakout series.  He is leading Chicago with a Corsi of 21.4 per 60 min and his PDO is a miniscule 916.  He hasn’t been getting the bounces despite dominating possession play. 

I’m picking Chicago to win this one and then run over Cinderella’s pumpkin stagecoach on their way to Lord Stanley’s beer stein.

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