The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks finish one-two in the Western Conference this season and will square off to see who advances to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both teams find themselves at this point after surviving comeback scares during the playoffs. In round-one the Canucks were up three games to none against the defending champs Chicago Blackhawks and were forced to win a game seven…the Sharks faced the same deal against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, finally getting past the Big Red Borg last night 3-2.
They met 4 times this year with the Canucks going 3-0-1.
On November 26 The Canucks pounded San Jose 6-1 then won again 4-3 just after New Years. The last two meetings were decided by way of a shootout with the Sharks winning 2-1 on January 20 and the Canucks coming out with a 5-4 victory on March 10.
The Canucks finished the regular season 54-19-9 and their 117 points won the Presidents’ Trophy. They are making their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 1994.
Your pick in the WCF
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Their penalty-kill play helped push them past the Nashville Predators as they denied the Preds 20 times on 21 man-advantage situations, including going five-for-five during the series-clinching game-six win. The one goal they did allow to Nashville was made up for with a shorty on the other end.
Vancouver went 4-18 on the power play during their second round victory over Nashville.
Ryan Kessler’s 15 overall points, (5 goals, 10 assists) leads the Canucks in scoring. At the time he’s tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk who finished the playoffs with 4 goals and 11 assists.
“He was unbelievable,” Henrik Sedin said of Kessler. “He plays PK, power play and 5-on-5, and he does it all really well. It was fun to watch him this series, and we’re going to need him to continue to play this way.”
“[Kessler] obviously decided to drive the bus, and he obviously was our dominant force on the ice.” Head coach Alain Vigneault added. “He played real strong at both ends of the rink and we needed that performance. And we need it to continue.”
But he understands others will have to help pull their weight in the ECF.
“We need some other guys to come on board here because it’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get tougher.”
Daniel Sedin’s 6 goals lead the Canucks, (6 goals, 4 assists). Brother Henrik has 8 assists and 1 goal.
Robert Luongo is 8-5 with 2.25 GAA, .917 SV% and 2 SO. He had a 1.64 GAA and .932 SV% in the six games versus Nashville.
Forward Mikael Samuelsson needed help getting off the ice during the third period of Saturday’s Game 5 loss, suffering a lower-body injury. He didn’t travel to Nashville for the game-six win over the Preds and is not expected to return anytime soon.
As for the San Jose Sharks…they won the Pacific Division with a record of 48-25-9 and 105 points. This the third time they’ve reached the conference finals, the second time in as many years, and have yet to make get to the SCF.
They find themselves here after knocking off a very pesky LA Kings team before having to gut out a seven-game war with the Wings, no small fete according to team captain Joe Thornton.
“I’m sure there were a lot of doubters who said we probably couldn’t do this,” he said after Thursday series-clincher. “But that’s two years in a row we’ve beaten a pretty good team, so I think we’re a pretty good team now, too.”
Ryan Clowe’s 13 overall points lead the Sharks during the playoffs. His return to the lineup after missing game six with an upper-body injury clearly gave a boost to the Sharks in game seven.
Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture each led with 6 goals. Both Couture and Setoguchi scored goals in the first period last night to stake their team to a 2-0 lead heading into the break.
Thornton has a pair of goals and nine assists.
Goalie Antti Niemi is seeking his second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, doing so last year with the Blackhawks. He’s 7-5 so far this postseason with a 3.01 GAA and .906 SV%.
As one should expect with a conference finals that match up the numbers 1 and 2 seeds, this should prove to be a very entertaining series. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it goes seven games, but I think I’m going with the Canucks to win in six.