Tonight begins the most grueling journey of all the championships for the San Jose Sharks, the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
They head to Vancouver as the number six seed for the first of two games hoping to at least pick up a split before heading home.
Since we have already gone through a preview of the series in its entirety we will instead break down a few keys to the game.
First we have the battle of the top lines, specifically the Logan Couture line versus the Henrik Sedin line. In the past it would have been Joe Thornton carrying the load as the top defensive centerman, but with Couture blossoming at the position and scoring goals as well why change it.
The good thing is that this frees up Thornton’s line to take on a more offensive approach, something he has not been able to do in the past few years as he was always employed as the Sharks’ shutdown centerman. If he is going to break that playoff choker label, this is the year to do it.
Also, realize that the Vancouver’s top line will have their hands full with the Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Martin Havlat line because of their speed. That, plus Havlat and Couture are two of San Jose’s hottest players right now with Havlat picking up five points in his last four games and Couture earning nine points in his last nine games.
The Sharks’ second key for tonight will be turnovers. They love to turn the puck over, and against a such a potent offense that could spell disaster in a matter of seconds. They will need to stay disciplined, especially when exiting their zone, in order to win this game. They will also want to take special care of the puck at the Canucks’ blue-line where turnovers there can lead to odd man rushes the other way.
Lastly, goaltending. While Antti Niemi has been rock solid all season he has allowed nine goals in his last three games. While that’s not too bad, his save percentage comes out to .880 during that span. He seemed to struggle at times down the stretch, so hopefully that day of rest he did him some good for the playoffs.
Tonight’s game should be a good one. I would not be surprised if the game got chippy early, thus setting the tone for the rest of the series. The Sharks find themselves in the underdog position for a second season in a row as well, so we’ll see how they handle that.