NHL 2011 Playoffs: Who Will Take a Starring Role for the Sharks or Canucks?
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.
Daniel Sedin (6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points)
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.
Henrik Sedin (1 goal, 8 assists, 9 points)
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.
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.
The Conn Smythe Candidate
Ryan Kesler (5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, +6 rating, 2, Game winning goals, 42 hits, 16 takeaways)
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.
*See this article for more reasons why Kesler is the leading Conn Smythe candidate in the 2011 playoffs.
The Tenacious Defender
Kevin Bieksa (+4 rating, 22 PIM, 2 fighting majors, 45 hits, 14 blocked shots, 25:57 in ice time)
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.
Roberto Luongo (8-5, 0.917 save percentage, 2.25 GAA, 2 shutouts)
Antti Niemi (7-5, 0.906 save percentage, 3.01 GAA, 0 shutouts)
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.
Vancouver, 3 (Sniper, Conn Smythe, Goalie)
San Jose, 2 (Tenacious Defender, Playmaker)