The Red Wings and Sharks will do battle for the second strait post-season.
Detroit will be coming off an extended layoff that some pundits may predict will make them a bit rusty at the start. I find that highly unlikely for this veteran-laden club. If anything the time off allowed them to rest up and heal wounds still lingering from the regular season and any damage caused by Shane Doan in the first round.
Kronwall will have more time back on the ice, Osgood will be one step closer to being a solid insurance policy in net, and most importantly, Zetterberg should be ready to go sometime in this series. His return will obviously be a positive against the deep forward unit that the Sharks bring to the table.
On a team chock full of Olympian talent, Ryan Clowe currently leads the team in scoring, if that tells you anything. And watch out for Devin Setoguchi, who gave Detroit fits and starts last year. Joe Thornton will also look to build off of being the hero against the LA Kings, against whom he scored the series-clinching OT goal.
The most interesting storyline for San Jose has been in net. After getting shaky performances out of starter Antti Niemi, Antero Niittymaki came in and put on a clinic before Niemi closed out the series in Game 6. Net drama? Check. Who will be the work horse come crunch time in Round 2?
There is no controversy in goal for Detroit. Jimmy Howard has been good when he needs to be and shown flashes of brilliance, bailing the Wings out from time to time and helping them win hockey games. He has confidence now, which he may of been lacking last year against this same team.
While neither of these teams have made large changes to their lineups through the last year, there is no reason to believe this series will go the same way as it did in 2010. Detroit was tired and run down after two long playoff runs, and just ran out of gas against a team playing to overcome playoff demons. Now after the long layoff, the ice will be a lot less tilted.
To win this series, Detroit will need to do a better job staying out of the box—something they suddenly had an issue doing in the Phoenix series. If they continue to get solid contributions through the lineup, along with a killer Pavel Datsyuk and a healthy Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg, this should be an outstanding series with plenty of offensive fireworks and highlight reel goals.
Niklas Kronwall will need to continue to play outstanding hockey in both zones, and Brian Rafalski needs to continue to be a force on the power play while limiting turnovers. San Jose's defense is going to have their hands full, if for no other reason than because of the play of Datsyuk.
The forward unit of the Wings made should-be Norris candidate Keith Yandle and co. look silly and overwhelmed at time. I don't know that Dan Boyle can fare much better. As such, this series will probably be decided in the neutral zone. If Detroit can do a better job at locking down the dangerous Sharks offense while using their speed and creativity opportunistically, they stand a great chance at winning this series.
Either way this is going to be a fun one, and Detroit gets to enjoy more warm weather. Good for them, and great for us fans.