Western Conference Final Preview: Canucks vs. Sharks

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If you asked most people what one word could encompass the play of the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks in recent years, it would probably be the word "choke".

The San Jose Sharks have spent most of the years of the new NHL favored to win the Stanley Cup, only to fail in all of their outings. The Vancouver Canucks, on the other hand, have spend the last few years losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Even this year, both the Sharks and the Canucks found themselves on the brink of disaster, blowing 3-0 series leads against the Red Wings and Blackhawks, respectively, only to salvage their runs in game sevens. Hell, even their other opponents, both of which were heavy underdogs in their series, gave them a run for their money.

To say that the Sharks and Canucks have faced adversity getting to this point would be an understatement. Both teams know how to lose, but now, they're both hungry to win, and surely every player, every coach, every management-type can all but taste the cold metal of the Stanley Cup mixed with champagne on their thirsty lips.

All the choke jobs, all the disappointments, they're all in the past. One "choker" has to move one, one choker will finally get their chance to win the Stanley Cup that has eluded their franchise for decades. The question is, who has it in them to outlast three emotional playoff series and make it? Will it be Jumbo Joe Thornton, "Gutless" Patrick Marleau and Dany "Vehicular Homicide" Heatley? Or will it be the Sedins and Roberto "lololol" Luongo? Will Vancouver finally get a chance to bring the cup back to Canada, or will the Sharks do their part to justify hockey in the south?

Who will represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals?

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Prax’s Take:
Thinking about it, this might be the most even series in all of the playoffs. As mentioned above, both teams have faced their fair share of adversity, but also, both teams have been incredibly strong, need I say stacked, in recent years. Both teams have award winners and elite players, and both teams have strong goaltending and deep bluelines. The Canucks have the Sedins, Hart and Art Ross trophy winners. They have one of the most useful players in the league in Ryan Kesler, and one of the most controversial, but also one of the strongest goalies in the league. On the other side of the rink, the Sharks have a trio of All-Stars and Olympians in Thornton, Healtey and Marleau, as well as, in my opinion one of the best group of offensive forwards beyond the big three, that could be first liners on any other team. Setoguchi, Clowe, Pavelski, Couture, the list goes on. Add in a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in Antti Niemi and an underrated group of defensemen, and you have yourself a pretty good team.

It's honestly kind of a craps shoot. There are things about both these teams that you can hate and that you can love. There are players on both sides of the ice that could individually win games. And, as mentioned, both teams are going to be very hungry to make that Stanley Cup Final and finally prove the naysayers wrong. But in the end, I have to go with the Canucks. They're on a mission, and the adversity they've faced this season has been the stuff of legends. I went with the Canucks in my original cup final predictions, and I'm going to stick with them, for better or for worse.
Prediction: Canucks in 6

Around The Checking Line:

Alicia Sprenkle: This is going to be a very tight series. The Sharks almost blew their strangle hold on Detroit, but with Clowe back in the lineup and Thornton looking strong, there is no reason to believe they cannot handle the pressure of the Western Conference Final. The Canucks are at the top of their game right now. Ryan Kesler is on fire and Roberto Luongo has looked excellent since getting by Chicago. It would be easy to prove a case for either team. It's going to be a close one for sure
Prediction: Sharks in 7

Chuck Gaston Jr.: Another great match up for the Western Conference finals. Vancouver has been winning on solid defense and great goaltender play by Roberto Luongo. However their big guns have not been scoring and while Kesler has finally come out of his shell, the Sedin Twins have yet to show their offensive prowess. San Jose had been to the WCF last season and will be looking to make this trip a winning effort. Not enough can be said about Anti Niemi’s fantastic play and their great balance of scoring and backchecking. While Vancouver will be the favorite, I feel that San Jose’s line up provides the perfect balance of size, speed, and offensive talent to counter what Vancouver will bring.
Prediction: Sharks in 5

Mark Trible: The Canucks will stand in San Jose's way this year, much like Chicago stood in their way last year. Although the Sharks look primed for a Cup appearance, I still don't feel confident in their ability to overcome their past woes. Vancouver will win, and although the Sharks will put up a better fight this time around, it will be Luongo that makes the difference.
Prediction: Canucks in 6

Rob McGowan: San Jose came within one goal of repeating their typical playoff let down but were able to hold on to defeat the Wings in seven games. The Canucks are notorious for playoff disappointments as well, making it hard to pick a winner. I believe the series will ultimately come down to goaltending and Niemi has the Cup experience to support him. Although a Canucks
/Lightning finale is what I would love to see, I predict the Sharks winning this one in another close seven games. Don't be surprised if we see a few overtimes in this one too.
Prediction: Sharks in 7

Andy Veilleux: San Jose's team is rolling well now, and Niemi has come up big in clutch games as always. The 'Nucks will not be able to check against San Jose's top two lines as they've had great balanced scoring.
Prediction: Sharks in 6

Alex Mueller: If we've learned anything from the previous rounds with the Sharks and Cancuks, it's that they have really entertaining series that go the distance. That won't change here. Luongo is a lot more relaxed and comfortable and Niemi always finds a way to elevate his game. Niemi is the last of the Blackhawks that Luongo needs to get his revenge on. Besides great goaltending this match-up also features guys that have the playoff choker stigma attached to them. The Sedin Teams started out well but haven't done much since. Joe Thornton has played well at times but he still has a ways to go to shed his choker status. This series will be more about the blue collar workers like Ryan Kesler and Ryan Clowe. It should be a great match-up but don't think you can derail the Canucks at this point.
Prediction: Canucks in 7

Jason Pietroniro: I couldn't of picked two teams that I wanted to see less in the Western Conference Finals. The only thing that makes me truly interested in this series in the fact that I think San Jose can beat the Canucks in 7. Alain Vigneault will be exposed this series. Only thing that worries me is the absence of Ryan Clowe. Apart from that I think San Jose has this in the bag.
Prediction: Sharks in 6

Kim Pollock: Honestly, I think this series could go either way. For me, the Canucks are a very... prim and proper, while the Sharks just seem to have fun out there. I'm very biased against the Canucks, but there's no denying that they're a great team and that they've had an unbelievable season. I do like the Sharks, though, and I think they've got the spunk and the energy to be a very tough opponent against Vancouver. They're obviously talented enough to make it to the Conference Finals. There are numerous similarities between the teams. Both avoided the chokejob during these playoffs. Both have power forwards, and both have solid defense. Antti Niemi has been a beast in net for San Jose, just as Robert Luongo has been for the Canucks. It's a very interesting matchup, and it'll be a good one for sure. I think the Sharks have it in them to pull off the upset, and I really, really do not want the Canucks to win, so I'm saying...
Prediction: Sharks in 6

Kyle Busch: I don't believe in Vancouver. Both teams have been up 3-0 and almost blown it. I think the Canadian heavy team in San Jose will beat up the so called "Canadian" Canucks. Niemi will have a few stinkers though, he's due. If the Sharks' gutless forward Patty Marleau decides to show up this series could be done sooner than we think.
Prediction: Sharks in 7

Newman: I still believe they are the best team in the NHL. That's all I can say.
Prediction: Canucks in 7

Jordan Kuhns: That Sharks D surprised me in the last series. They showed some holes, but they also showed they are very, very capable. If you look at Detroit's attack, it's potent. San Jose fought through a tremendous 0-3 comeback (that seems to be coming into style or going out of it...I digress) and was able to pull out the series. They work as a unit. They're feeling good about themselves. I'm still not sold on Vancouver. Henrik and Daniel have gone silent. If it weren't for Ryan Kesler's repeated heroics, I have a feeling Nashville could have taken that series (which I predicted...sigh). I get the feeling these two teams are as complete as you can possibly get. I just feel like the Sharks have more steel and resolve when facing unfavorable situations. They'll probably lose game one but surge ahead.
Prediction: Sharks in 6

Jonathan Szekeres: They slayed the dragon when they ousted the Blackhawks in 7 games. They proved they knew how to close out a series when they defeated the Predators in 6 games. Now the Canucks face their stiffest test yet; a Shark team that is deep in forward, and has a proven goalie in net. However, they are weak on D. Very weak. The Canucks may have less scoring depth, but their goaltending is just as good if not better, and their defense is much, much deeper. Both teams have been on the cusp for years, never really breaking through. Will the Sharks' size be the undoing of the smaller Canucks? Expect Viktor Oreskovich and Andrew Alberts to draw into the lineup to combat that. Canucks finally break through.
Prediction: Canucks in 7

Lowell Williamson: The two best teams in the West meet in the Conference Final. Neither team has been firing on all cylinders for numerous reasons not the least of which both have had goaltending issues. For the Canucks the Sedins have been ok at best. As for the Sharks, neither Marleau nor Heatley have been playing up to their potential. Will we see a high scoring or a defensive battle? I think last shot will win most games, which will be good for the poolies. Those of you who want a Canadian team in the cup finals are going to be disappointed. I’ve never understood that logic anyway. There are often more Canadians on teams from the US (Chicago last year). Besides, cheer for your team don’t be hopping on different bandwagons.
Prediction: Sharks in 7

Eastern Conference Final Predictions