#2 Chicago Blackhawks
(52-22-8, 112 pts)
#1 San Jose Sharks
(51-20-11, 113 pts)
How They Got Here: Relatively speaking, this has been an easy trip for the Blackhawks to get to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season. They dismissed both Vancouver and Nashville in six games, but neither series really felt out of control for them at any given point. Chicago has proven that it has the ability to win on the road, closing out both series’ on enemy ice.
Player To Watch: Stars shine brightly on the biggest of stages, and that’s precisely what C Jonathan Toews has done in these playoffs for the Hawks. As one of the youngest stars on a youthful team, watching Toews pick up eight points in a span of two games against the Canucks and one of the best goalies in the NHL in G Roberto Luongo was very, very impressive. Toews has been involved in a goal in nine straight NHL playoff betting affairs, giving him 20 in the postseason.
Goalie Outlook: G Antti Niemi has a pair of shutouts in these playoffs and has a solid 2.57 GAA to show for it. He hasn’t been fantastic every single night out there, but he hasn’t had to be either. The Hawks will call on him to win a game or two in this series, but the offense will be to do the majority of the work.
Key To Victory: The Chicago defense is only allowing opponents to shoot 27.6 shots per game in these playoffs. That’s a fantastic number and will have to keep up to keep Niemi, who is probably outmatched in this series, out of trouble.
San Jose Sharks
How They Got Here: What a fantastic job that the Sharks did in taking out the Red Wings in Round 2 of the playoffs! In spite of the fact that they were absolutely embarrassed in Game 4 in Hockeytown, they fired right back with the winner in Game 5, taking care of a series that just as easily could’ve ultimately gotten away from them had they lost their second opportunity at a close out game.
Player To Watch: Leading scorer C Joe Pavelski hasn’t scored in three games, but my, when he was on fire from Game 6 of the Colorado series through Game 2 of the Detroit series, he was absolutely unstoppable. Pavelski scored six goals and logged three assists in those three games and has proven that he can do a ton of damage offensively for the second line of San Jose.
Goalie Outlook: G Evgeni Nabokov has had two miserable games in these playoffs, but if you throw out the five goals that he allowed in Game 2 to Colorado and the five he gave up before getting pulled in Game 4 against Detroit, he has been absolutely phenomenal in these playoffs. The numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Russian goalkeeper has really been the most dominant force in these playoffs in our opinion, and as long as he doesn’t have too many lapses in games, the Sharks will be in great shape.
Key To Victory: San Jose seems to have exorcized the demons of the past, and it is ready to take that next huge step to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. On the final day of the season, the Sharks swiped home ice advantage should this situation have arisen, and now, they must make Chicago pay for its sins of not nailing down the top seed in the West when it had the chance.
The Final Word: It’s hard to really not like both teams in this series. The Hawks are that young, youthful squad that stood toe-to-toe with the behemoths of the West last year against Detroit, while San Jose is just the feel good story that should’ve been here time and time again before but is finally getting over the hump right now. That being said, the Blackhawks are going to be very, very disappointed when they lose Game 7 in the Shark Tank to wrap up what should be just a fantastic series.
Sharks in 7