The two teams that were supposed to be here at the start of the playoffs are there. No one can say that San Jose and Chicago weren't the two best teams in the Western Conference leading into Day 1 of the playoffs. Both played great hockey throughout the regular season and have played strong games to get where they're at now. Here I'm going to break down the teams a little bit. The links will take you to a card for each player listed for sale at Sportsbuy.com. I'm offering free shipping on all orders of $5.00 or more during the month of May.
Lines 1 and 2 for San Jose. The Thornton, Marleau, Heatley line got off to a slow start in Round 1. Colorado did a good job of shutting them down and holding the line to a handful of points. They were able to come alive against Detroit and make up for their lack of offense against Colorado. Pavelski, Setoguchi, and Clowe made up for the Big 3's lack of scoring in Round 1. They were also the icing on the cake that helped to bounce Detroit from contention. They'll need to keep that up if they want to move on.
Lines 1 and 2 for Chicago. Toews, Kane and whoever they put up on the other wing. Lets face it, whether it's Hossa, Brouwer, Sharp or Byfuglien, Toews and Kane make the other winger look good. They've both been effective in the first two rounds riding pretty impressive point streaks throughout the playoffs, which they need to keep up if the Hawks are going to have a chance to move on. Bolland, Ladd, and Versteeg will be playing against the Number 1 line for San Jose. Knowing that they'll be trying to shut down their line while controlling the puck in the other teams end and provide a little bit of nastiness while doing it...just like they did against Vancouver.
Defense for San Jose. Rob Blake has been playing some great hockey lately. Generally being a pain in the butt to play against and making some good plays. By far the leader on the back end for the Sharks. The Hawks will have to exploit his lack of mobility. Dan Boyle got over his gaffe in the 1st Round and has been a healthy contributor to the Sharks offense. He will make turnovers and they Hawks need to jump on those chances. Doug Murray is a big strong guy with some decent speed. The Hawks need to keep their heads up or Murray will remove it from their shoulders. Jason Demers is turning out to be a solid d-man for the Sharks. The Hawks will have to take advantage of his lack of experience and teach him a few things.
Defense for Chicago. Seabrook and Keith are the top pair; very solid and know where each other is at which helps them get out of trouble. They will be playing against the Thornton line. If the Sharks top line is going to succeed, they need to get set up in the offensive zone and try and draw these guys out of position. Brian Campbell is back. It was surprising how much of an impact he makes on the Hawks offense. He can be called the Hawks Achilles heel...shut him down and you shut down most of the offense. Brent Sopel has been old reliable, literally, for the Hawks. He takes a beating and keeps coming back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. A great shot blocker, but if the Sharks can fake a shot and make a pass around or over him, they'll get a scoring chance.
Goalies: Nabakov and Niemi are playing solid. They're both stealing games for their teams and keeping their teams on top when called upon. If the Sharks want to beat Niemi they need to make some passes across the crease to get him moving and not give him a chance to set to block the shot. If the Hawks want to beat Nabokov, they will need to get him one on one to beat him, or let some bombs go from the point and get some deflections.
I'm only going to make one prediction for this series: Great hockey will be played by both teams. This is going to be a great display of hockey by two of the NHL's greatest teams.