The top two seeds in the Western Conference will matchup Sunday afternoon at 3:00 P.M. for the conference finals. San Jose will be trying to make it to the finals for the first time in their history, while the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks will be trying to make it for the first time since 1992.
Season Series: Chicago has the edge over San Jose three games to one with two of the games coming in overtime. Yours truly was at one of those overtime games back in November at the United Center for Jeremy Roenick Heritage Night. Chicago outscored the Sharks 17-11 in the series.
Goaltending: San Jose’s Evgeny Nabokov is currently 8-3 in the playoffs with a 2.43 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Nabokov has a 40-34 record overall in the playoffs and will need to stand tall as he will be busy from the shots that the Hawks offence will be throwing his way. He can get rattled and when he’s off, he’s way off. He does however posses the ability to make the big saves. Antii Niemi is 8-4 in his first ever playoff run, and his GAA is 2.59 and save percentage is .909. One of the very telling stats for Niemi is that he is 4-0 in the playoffs after a loss. With the offence of the Hawks, he doesn’t need to be great, but needs to be good enough.
Offence: For the Sharks, Jumbo Joe finally got off the schnied and has three goals and eight assists for 11 points so far. Joe Pavelski however has been the bigger Joe and leads the Sharks in points with 15 on nine goals and six helpers. Dany Heatley only has two scores and is a minus three. He will need to step up as will Patrick Marleau. For the Hawks young captain Jonathan Toews has a nine game scoring streak and has nineteen points so far. In two years he has 33 points in 29 playoff games. Patrick Kane has quietly accumulated seven goals and will need to get more for the Hawks to be successful. Marian Hossa only has two goals at this point. He has been working hard and is due to explode. While the Sharks have offensive potential they are inconsistent. The Hawks on the other hand can score in bunches.
Defence: San Jose’s defence is pretty mobile and has good size. Dan Boyle and Rob Blake are the leaders, and Douglas Murray is beginning to make a name for himself. They aren’t scarry though, except when Boyle puts the puck in his own net which he’s done twice this post season. Chicago has one of the best D pairs in the game with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Having Brian Campbell doesn’t hurt either. If there’s an issue on the Hawks D it’s their sixth man Jordan Hendry. He doesn’t get alot of minutes, but when he does he’ll have to keep his mistakes to a minimum.
Players to watch: For the Sharks keep an eye on Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi who play on the same line with Joe Pavelski . They can be a dangerous trio. For Chicago as I said Hossa is due and Toews and Kane will remain steady.
Prediction and why: The best two teams will battle this out and I expect it to go all seven with Chicago coming out on top. Not cause I’m a Hawks fan, but I feel that San Jose isn’t fast enough and can’t get nasty enough if needed. Also, for some reason the Sharks may be feeling that their is some relief since they made it past the first two rounds.
Hawks in 7.
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