No two teams are annually more different when the season shifts from the regular season to the Stanley Cup playoffs than the Sharks and Red Wings.
Historically, San Jose goes south, while Detroit soars in the postseason. Although the Wings started their typical playoff ascent a little early to surge all the way to fifth in the Western Conference, they proved that they didn’t get hot too early by ousting Phoenix in seven games.
The Sharks, meanwhile, at least got past the first round this season after dropping their opening-round series with Anaheim last spring. But a positive result over a six-game series against a young, inexperienced Avalanche team that was battling injuries to key offensive players did nothing to impress me and convince me the Sharks are ready to go more than two rounds for the first time in Joe Thornton’s NHL career.
The Sharks will win if … what else? Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley pretend it’s January and go on the type of scoring binge that would give the Sharks two legit scoring lines. Joe Pavelski cannot carry this team alone. The Sharks obviously have to take perfect care of the puck at both blue lines and Evgeni Nabokov has to stand tall in net.
The Red Wings will win if … Jimmy Howard continues to ignore his rookie status and doesn’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of a second-round series against a team stocked with would-be snipers. On paper at least, the Sharks have more offensive weapons than the Coyotes. If Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and the rest of the Wings’ stars play up to their usual high caliber, Howard can take care of the rest.
My prediction: Red Wings in 6. Even if the Sharks’ “Big Three” knew how to get back on track, the Wings’ two-way play would neutralize that with ease. There’s no way the Sharks will be able to hold down Detroit’s top-six forwards.