The Sharks looked shaky in the first round but managed to grit out a 4-2 series win over the Anze Kopitar-less Los Angeles. Their reward is a meeting with the most skilled team in the NHL, The Detriot Red Wings, who disposed of the Coyotes 4-0 in their opening series without their best player, Henrik Zetterberg. Unfortunately for the Sharks, the Red Wings will regain Zetterberg and are well rested for the most intriguing second round match-up. This series marks the fifth time these two teams have faced off in the NHL playoffs and the second consecutive year that they played each other in the second round. Hopefully, the Sharks can repeat last year’s magic where they stormed off to a 3-0 series lead and an eventual 4-1 series win. However, the road to victory will be much tougher this year as the Wings are not only out for revenge but their health is exponentially better than last year. In 2010, the Sharks took advantage of a beaten up and tired Red Wings team that never had fresh legs all year. In contrast, the 2011 edition of the Red Wings is reminiscent of their Stanley Cup champion squads and is much stronger than the 2010 version. For the Sharks to make it through to the 3rd round in consecutive years they will have to play much more consistent than they did in round 1.
Key Match-Up: Antii Niemi vs. Jimmy Howard- Probably the most important pairing in this series. Niemi was one of the biggest reasons that the Chicago Blackhawks swept the Sharks and won the Stanley Cup championship last year. Nevertheless, his play so far in the playoffs as been subpar. He gives up too many second chance opportunities that lead to easy goals for the opponent. Throughout the Sharks playoff struggles, they have been known to give up many soft goals that dig themselves into holes that they cannot get out of. That is the reason the Sharks released Nabby because he never put the team on his back in the playoffs and in order to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, the goalie has to stand on his head every once in awhile.
Defense: The Sharks top three attacking lines are filthy and they will be able to snip corners against Jimmy Howard who was almost replaced by Nabby late in the year. However, the defense has been so-so and lacks depth. Dan Boyle is the Sharks best defender but it looked like the heavy workload of the season affected his play against the Kings. He turned the ball over numerous times and looked sluggish against a subpar Kings offense. That low-level of play by the anchor of the Sharks defense will not fly against he fierce Red Wings attack that can score at will, which they emphasized in an absolutely dominating performance against the Phoenix Coyotes.
X-Factor: All eyes are on Jumbo Joe Thornton. Despite all his great accomplishments, his poor play-offs record is what he is remembered by. This stigma may not be fair, but that is how he is viewed around the league and he needs to have a spectacular series in order for the 2011 Sharks to continue their championship run. Whatever the outcome of this series is, Thornton will have to carry it on his shoulders, so look for him to exorcise some demons and will the Sharks over the Wings.
Prediction: Most experts have the Wings winning in 7 games, but here at 756sports, we have faith that the Sharks will end their playoff woes and pull out a winner in six games.