One year ago, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings played each other in the final game of the regular season and the Sharks won 3-2, giving the Canucks the Kings in round 1. This year, the opposite happened. The Kings beat the Sharks in their final game (by the same 3-2 score) to give San Jose to the Canucks.
It remains to be seen if the Canucks get a better match-up this season, but they’re certainly due for one. In 2011 the first place Canucks got the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. In 2012 the first place Canucks got the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings. In 2013, maybe, just maybe the Canucks lucked out by avoiding the Kings and Blues in round 1.
But not so fast. The Canucks have not played well against the Sharks this season, going 0-2-1 in three meetings.
Lets see how these teams match up:
Jan 27 (in SJ): San Jose 4, Vancouver 1
Mar 5 (in Van): San Jose 3, Vancouver 2 (SO)
Apr 1 (in SJ): San Jose 3, Vancouver 2
San Jose was clearly the better team in both games in San Jose, but Vancouver also caught the Sharks at the worst possible time. Both times they played were right in the middle of 7 game winning streaks for the Sharks (who have had a very streaky season). The game in Vancouver was an evenly played game that the Sharks won in a shootout. Cory Schneider and Antti Niemi played in all three games, while Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy did not play in any of the match-ups.
The Sharks and Canucks have only met in one previous playoff match-up, a memorable one for Canucks fans. The Canucks beat the Sharks in 5 games in the 2011 Western Conference final. That series was more even than it appeared, with the Sharks grossly out-shooting the Canucks in game 4 and 5. The Sedins were more dominant against the Sharks than any other team in the 2011 playoffs (Henrik with 12 points, Daniel with 6 points). Luongo was also exceptional with a .931 save percentage in the series.
The Sharks have elected to spread out their talent over three lines, while the Canucks (in recent games anyway), have chosen to load up two lines.
It remains to be seen if the Canucks are more well suited having Roy and Kesler on the same line or spreading out the wealth like San Jose. My thought is that a three line team like the Sharks should be countered with three good lines. The Canucks have the edge with every line, except for the Sharks impressive second line of Havlat-Marleau-Couture.
Chris Tanev is injured for Vancouver, while the Sharks are relatively healthy. There is a chance that Tanev could return for the Canucks and also a possibility that rookie Frank Corrado sees some action. My guess is that Vigneault chooses to go with his veterans for game 1.
This is a fairly even matchup, and it is certainly an area that the Sharks have improved considerably since the last time we saw these two teams play each other in the playoffs. The Sharks were so happy with their blueline that they were able to move Brent Burns to forward.
Goaltending is the biggest wild card in the series and could well end up deciding who wins the series. Nobody really knows how serious Cory Schneider’s injury is, and that could spell trouble for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo is still an excellent goalie, but he hasn’t had a good season and he certainly isn’t the goalie that Cory Schneider is. Antti Niemi has carried the mail for the Sharks all season and has enjoyed the best season of his career. The Canucks are very familiar with Niemi and have shown an ability to score goals on him, both when Niemi was with the Blackhawks and the Sharks. If Luongo does end up playing, it is probably a good matchup for him personally, but not having Schneider in net will be a huge blow to the Canucks chances.
The coaching matchup has to be considered even in this series. Vigneault beat McLellan two years ago, but otherwise both coaches have taken their team to great heights in the regular season but have yet to win the ultimate prize as a head coach.
San Jose: 7th on the power play, 6th on the penalty kill
Vancouver: 22nd on the power play, 8th on the penalty kill
San Jose has the big edge in specialty teams going into this series, based on statistics. The Canucks power play has been anemic for most of this season. With that said, the power play has been without Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy, and has been much better of late.
This won’t be easy for the Canucks and if they get poor goaltending, they will lose. If the Canucks stay healthy and match the Sharks power play, they should win. The Sharks will have extra motivation because of their 2011 loss to Vancouver while the Canucks will try not to get upset in the first round for a second straight year. My prediction is Canucks in 7.