When it comes to recent success in the Western Conference, these two teams have been the proverbial ‘gold standards’, but whereas San Jose has seen most of its successes come only in the regular season, Detroit has seen plenty of its successes come also in the playoffs.
The Sharks have now finished first in the Western Conference standings in two consecutive years, with a second place finish the year before that, and although they recently improved their playoff series record to 2-2 within these last three years by defeating the Colorado Avalanche, they did not accomplish this feat without their fair share of anxious moments.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings have been crowned the Western Conference Champions in each of the last two seasons, with also a second place finish the season before that. Behind good coaching, a tremendous amount of experience, great players, and excellent management, the Red Wings have been the model NHL franchise that all others have looked up to.
The questions being asked of Detroit this season though are whether or not this team still has the same drive and determination to win, and also whether or not the many recent long seasons have finally caught up to them physically. Both of these questions were brought to the forefront right after their disastrous game 6 loss to Phoenix in the opening playoff round, and although the Red Wings were able to storm back and win game 7 in convincing fashion, these questions still continue to linger.
On the other end, the questions being asked of San Jose this season continue to be the same—‘can they win in the playoffs’? After losing both game 1 and game 3 of their opening round playoff series with Colorado, it started to look like the answer was going to be a definitive ‘no’, but after breaking the hearts of Avalanche fans and players with an overtime win in game 4, and then going on to win the next two games and the series, the answer might have shifted slightly to a ‘maybe’.
The Sharks still have plenty to prove, and by all logic, that should make them the hungrier and more determined team in this series. Furthermore, the Sharks should also be the team here that is in better physical condition, having completed their first round playoff series a full 3 days ahead of the Red Wings, and also having played significantly less games than Detroit over the past 3 seasons.
However, while the Sharks have the edge over the Red Wings in these key areas, and home ice advantage as well, they certainly do not edge the Red Wings in playoff experience, nor have they proven yet that their key players can step up during the most important games of the season. Dany Heatley has yet to score a goal in these playoffs, and both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have contributed just 3 points in six games. Without more contribution from this top unit, San Jose will have a very difficult time trying to win this series.
Detroit went 3-0-1 against the Sharks this season, which is yet another indication that the Sharks do not match up well against the Red Wings, and with two very potent top forward lines, the Red Wings will be a handful for the Sharks to deal with. Unless the Sharks can get their top line going against Detroit’s shutdown players, the Red Wings should ultimately prevail. Based on the season series and playoff pedigree, the Sharks are also probably more intimidated by the Red Wings than the Red Wings are by the Sharks, despite where they each finished in the standings this season.
The Red Wings may lose game 1 of the series due to physical exhaustion, but the prediction here is that they win in 7.
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