Season Series: Detroit won, 3-1
Nov. 5:Detroit 2, San Jose 1 (SO)Jan. 9:Detroit 4, San Jose 1Feb. 2:Detroit 4, San Jose 2Feb. 11:San Jose 3, Detroit 2 (SO)
How the Sharks can win: It's one thing to claw your way past a team like Colorado that barely held on to the eighth spot. It'll be a task of significantly greater measure to advance against the battle-hardened Red Wings. It's interesting that a team that finished as the top seed in the conference, 11 points better than Detroit, is considered the underdog in some quarters (including these), but that's the toll exacted by so many postseason failures.
Can they move past that? Sure...if all oars are in the water. It's no knock on Joe Pavelski, who was so impressive against the Avs, to suggest that if he's the best player in teal during this round, the Sharks will be cleaning out their lockers before long. After chipping in with one goal and a minus-7 rating in the first round, it's time for the big boys to do more than eat minutes. This one falls directly on the shoulders of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Their impact determines the outcome of this series.
How the Red Wings can win: Unlike the Sharks, the Wings can count on their best players punching the clock on time. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were magnificent in the first round, chipping in 11 goals and 19 points between them. Those numbers look even better coming against a patient, disciplined Coyotes defense. While you can expect them to play significant roles this time around, the Wings require more from their support crew to advance. Johan Franzen earned a point in each of the seven games against Phoenix, but came up with just one goal -- a far cry his pace over the last two years. Todd Bertuzzi was an effective presence in front of the net, but put just one puck in it. Dan Cleary was good with the body, but blanked on the scoresheet. If that trio makes some noise, the Wings advance.
Key performer: Nicklas Lidstrom. That Game 7 performance against the Coyotes was one for the aged. Now 40 -- his odometer just clicked over yesterday -- Lidstrom may not be able to bring that type of result with the consistency he once did, but he's plenty capable of altering the course of this series, especially if it comes down to a special teams battle. If he can keep Detroit's power play clicking above 20 percent, while getting a little more out of the PK, the Wings should advance.
Keep an eye on: The face-off circle. Both the Sharks and the Wings play a puck possession style, and the easiest way to control the biscuit is to dominate the dots. The Sharks have a decided advantage in that department with Thornton, Pavelski and Scott Nichol all ranking among the league's 20 best face-off men during the regular season. Manny Malhotra's no slouch, either. On paper, Detroit doesn't match up. Datsyuk is a solid 55 percent winner, but the rest of their centers will be in tough to break even. If the Wings are forced to chase the play, they're considerably less effective.
X-Factor: Thornton. Kinda sad to list a healthy top-10 scorer as an unknown quantity...wait scratch that. If anything, Thornton's legacy of big game no-shows -- see the Vancouver Olympics and the first round against the Avs for recent examples -- sets him up for another cameo appearance in this series. Still, there's a chance, isn't there? A slim hope that maybe, if just for a game or two in the latter stretches, he'll uncork the will to match his significant means and become the dominating presence that the hockey gods built him to be. Yeah...we keep telling ourselves that...
Prediction: Detroit in six