Vancouver Canucks

NHL 2011 Playoffs: Who Will Take a Starring Role for the Sharks or Canucks?

Joel ProsserCorrespondent IMay 15, 2011

NHL 2011 Playoffs: Who Will Take a Starring Role for the Sharks or Canucks?

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 20: Kevin Bieksa #3 of the Vancouver Canucks gets his stick on the puck while trying to defend against Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks during the second period in NHL action on January 20, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancou
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks are set to be battle in the Western Conference Finals. As is fitting for the top two ranked teams in the Western Conference, they both have fairly deep rosters with an abundance of stars.

    Stars in the regular season at least.

    One of these two teams, both perennial playoff underachievers, will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and hopefully win their first Stanley Cup.

    Any Stanley Cup team has players that step up to take on an iconic role.

    The Sniper and the Playmaker who conspire to provide the bulk of the offensive production.

    The Conn Smythe winner, who is seemingly everywhere on the ice, doing all the little things necessary to win and also providing clutch goals. 

    The Tenacious Defender, a nasty piece of business who makes opposing forwards pay for daring to cross his blueline or crowding his goalie.

    The Goalie, who simply provides the necessary saves when the game is on the line.

    Of course, any Stanley Cup–winning team also has great supporting players, but they all have five players who fit these roles and who drive the team to success.

    If you think back to past Stanley Cup–winning teams, who can easily see how these roles were filled. For example, last year Patrick Kane was the Sniper for Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews was the Conn Smythe winner, etc.

    Now let's compare the players who seem to be filling these roles for the Canucks and Sharks in 2011.

The Sniper

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks scores a goal against Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Bridgestone Arena on May 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo b
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Daniel Sedin (6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points) 

    vs. 

    Dany Heatley (3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points)

    I could have listed Logan Couture or Devin Setoguchi in this role for the Sharks. But if they want to win a Stanley Cup, they need Heatley to step up.

    He is making the most money on the team ($7,500,000 salary cap hit), the Sharks gave up a ton to get him (specifically for this series, the Sharks would still have Christian Ehrhoff if not for Heatley) and he has big-game experience.

    Daniel Sedin is the obvious choice for the Canucks, as he won the Art Ross Trophy in the regular season and is leading the Canucks in playoff goals.

    Advantage: Canucks

The Playmaker

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after they beat the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 12, 2011 in San Jose, Califo
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Henrik Sedin (1 goal, 8 assists, 9 points) 

    vs. 

    Joe Thornton (2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points)

    Jumbo Joe and Henrik have several similarities:

    Both are the Captain of their respective teams.

    Both have won the Art Ross Trophy.

    Both are commonly recognized as one of the best passers in the NHL, in the same discussion as Sidney Crosby in that regard.

    And both have reputations as playoff non-performers.

    But only one of them is going to have the chance to shed that damning reputation in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Advantage: Sharks

The Conn Smythe Candidate

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    Jonathan Toews, the defending Conn Smythe winner, and Ryan Kesler, the man most likely to succeed him.
    Jonathan Toews, the defending Conn Smythe winner, and Ryan Kesler, the man most likely to succeed him.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ryan Kesler (5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, +6 rating, 2, Game winning goals, 42 hits, 16 takeaways)

    vs.

    Ryane Clowe (4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points, +6 rating, 31 hits, zero game winning goals, 7 takeaways, 3 blocked shots, 12 blocked shots)

    Both Kesler and Clowe are physical forces for their respective teams, and they provide a lion's share of the offense as well. Whether it is a timely goal at one end or a physical play at the end of the rink, they are constantly involved in the play.

    Whichever team makes it to the Stanley Cup Finals, these players will be in serious contention for the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP.

    Advantage: Vancouver

    *See this article for more reasons why Kesler is the leading Conn Smythe candidate in the 2011 playoffs.

The Tenacious Defender

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    DETROIT - MAY 6: Douglas Murray #3 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck while playing the Detroit Red Wings in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mic
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Kevin Bieksa (+4 rating, 22 PIM, 2 fighting majors, 45 hits, 14 blocked shots, 25:57 in ice time)

    vs.

    Douglas Murray (-1 rating, 4 PIM, 51 hits, 34 blocked shots, 19:17 average ice time)

    Bieksa is the more nasty defenceman, one who'll do whatever it takes, legal or illegal, to clear the front of his net.

    Murray however is one of the biggest hitters in the NHL, and he does it without taking penalties.

    Advantage: San Jose

    *See this article for a list of the top 10 physical players remaining in the playoffs.

The Goalie

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12:  Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 12, 2011 in San Jose, California.  (Ph
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Roberto Luongo (8-5, 0.917 save percentage, 2.25 GAA, 2 shutouts)

    vs.

    Antti Niemi (7-5, 0.906 save percentage, 3.01 GAA, 0 shutouts)

    Niemi might have a ring from last season's Chicago Blackhawks, but he doesn't have Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and the other Chicago defenders in front of him, and it shows.

    Niemi has the worst statistics of any of the four remaining goalies, while Luongo leads the NHL in shutouts and rebounded nicely from a pair of bad games against Chicago in the first round.

    Advantage: Vancouver

    *See this article for a comparison of all four goalies for the Conference finalists.

Conclusion

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Daniel Sedin #22, Henrik Sedin #33, and Ryan Kesler #17of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after a goal against Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Bridgestone Arena on
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Vancouver, 3 (Sniper, Conn Smythe, Goalie)

    vs.

    San Jose, 2 (Tenacious Defender, Playmaker)

    Advantage: Vancouver

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