VANCOUVER, B.C. --
The Western Conference Finals features star forwards who have to find a way to take their games to the next level. It features a goaltender with a Stanley Cup ring and another with an Olympic gold medal he can wrap around his neck. This series between the Vancouver Canucks
and San Jose Sharks
also features a pair of teams desperate to get over the hump in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Before they begin (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS), make sure you read on for a viewing guide on what to look for from the potential lines, defensive pairings and goaltending matchups:
San Jose: Devin Setoguchi - Joe Thornton - Patrick Marleau
Vancouver: Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Setoguchi and Thornton were all-around threats against the Red Wings in the conference semifinals, but Marleau didn't make a dent in the series until he registered his first point midway through the third period. His goal turned out to be the game-winner. Setoguchi had 5 goals against the Wings and Thornton had 6 assists, though he was a minus-3.
The lack of production Vancouver got out of the Sedins and Burrows against the Predators was overshadowed by the remarkable play of Ryan Kesler
. Daniel and Henrik managed just 7 points and a minus-10 rating while Burrows had 3 points and was a minus-3. Burrows, though, scored the most memorable goal for the Canucks in these playoffs, his overtime winner in Game 7 against the Blackhawks.
No. 2s could be No. 1s
San Jose: Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Dany Heatley
Vancouver: Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Clowe, Couture and Heatley are obviously good enough to be considered the Sharks' top line, or if not, their 1A line. Clowe leads the team in playoff scoring with 13 points and Couture is second with 12. Heatley has lagged a little with 8 points. Couture has scored goals in four straight games. Clowe missed Game 6 against the Red Wings, but played 19 ½ minutes in Game 7.
Kesler has been without question the Canucks' best player in the playoffs. He's become the forward to stop if you're playing against the Canucks, and he's doing all he can to make his linemates better, too. Kesler set up Raymond for his first playoff goal in Game 6 against Nashville. Higgins has scored 3 times in the playoffs, including goals in both Game 1s. He is playing through pain in his sore left foot.
Third lines a charm
San Jose: Kyle Wellwood - Joe Pavelski - Torrey Mitchell
Vancouver: Raffi Torres - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Ex-Canuck Wellwood has been good enough that Sharks coach Todd McLellan
feels comfortable that Pavelski, arguably a top-two center in the NHL, can still excel in a No. 3 role. This line combined for 7 points against Detroit, but Pavelski, who was not far from being a point-per-game guy in the regular season, has only 7 in 13 playoff games. He had 17 points in 15 playoff games last season.
Lapierre has been the signature player on this line for the Canucks. The trade deadline acquisition was forced to step into a bigger role with Manny Malhotra
out with an eye injury and he's answered the bell. Lapierre has won 56 percent of his faceoffs in the playoffs while also playing with his normal in-your-face grit that gets under the opponent's skin.
Fourth line shuffle
San Jose: Ben Ferriero, Scott Nichol, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers, Jamie McGinn
Vancouver: Jeff Tambellini, Cody Hodgson, Tanner Glass, Mikael Samuelsson, Victor Oreskovich
The Sharks' fourth-liners have combined for just 1 goal and a minus-12 rating in the playoffs. Nichol is the only one of the bunch who has played in all 13 playoff games, and he's a minus-6. Ferriero didn't play against Los Angeles in the first round, but he played all seven games against Detroit and scored the fourth line's lone goal -- the overtime winner in Game 1 against Detroit. It was Nichol and Ferriero with Eager in Game 7 against the Red Wings.
Vancouver's fourth-liners have accounted for a goal and 3 assists, but that includes a goal and 2 assists from Samuelsson when he was either playing up with the Sedins or on the power play. Samuelsson will miss Game 1, so coach Alain Vigneault
will choose between Tambellini and Oreskovich, who will be more physical on the Sharks bigger forwards.
BLUE LINE BOYS
San Jose: Dan Boyle - Douglas Murray
Vancouver: Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Boyle leads all NHL defensemen with 11 points in the playoffs and Murray leads everyone with 51 hits and is third with 34 blocked shots. Boyle is one of the most feared puck-movers in the game, and Murray is one of the most lethal hitters. Boyle also eats up huge minutes, to the tune of nearly 26 minutes per game. Murray is at less than 20 because he doesn't play on the power play.
Bieksa and Hamhuis have turned into the Canucks' No. 1 shutdown pair and biggest minute-munchers as well. They are second and fourth, respectively, in total ice time in these playoffs with each close to 26 minutes per game. Bieksa has been a physical force with 45 hits while Hamhuis, who has 25 blocks, has played a steady yet bland game.
Looking at twos
San Jose: Jason Demers - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Vancouver: Alex Edler - Sami Salo
It's a little bit of offense and defense from the Sharks' second pair, with Vlasic providing the insurance for Demers to join the rush. Vlasic is playing 21 minutes per game, which is second most on the blue line behind Boyle. Demers is at 20 minutes a game thanks to his time on the power play. Vlasic is second on the team with 30 blocked shots.
Edler had a rough series against Nashville, but he was better in Game 6 when coach Alain Vigneault
paired him with NHL veteran Salo. Edler played nearly 22 minutes in Game 6 and wasn't at fault for anything. Salo was in for 19 1/2 minutes and was similarly solid. This could be the pair going forward for the Canucks.
Three is not a crowd
San Jose: Niclas Wallin - Ian White
Vancouver: Christian Ehrhoff - Aaron Rome
Wallin has won a Stanley Cup before, joining Boyle, Ben Eager
, Kent Huskins
and Antti Niemi
as the only Sharks with championship rings. Wallin has been effective with 27 hits and 26 blocks, making him arguably the Sharks' third most-effective blueliner in the playoffs behind Boyle and Murray. White is logging a few more minutes per game because he plays on the second power-play unit.
Ehrhoff has been the most offensive of the Canucks blueliners with 9 points, including 2 goals. He was paired with Rome in Game 6 against Nashville largely because Vigneault figured Edler would be better served with Salo. Rome played in every game of the Nashville series and fared just fine in his 12 or so minutes per game.
San Jose: Justin Braun
Vancouver: Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts
Braun hasn't played since Game 2 against Los Angeles, which means he hasn't played in a month. He logged 15 1/2 minutes in the Sharks' 4-0 loss.
Ballard is clearly in the coach's doghouse because despite his big contract he can't stay in the lineup. He has played in seven games this postseason and is a minus-1. Alberts has played in only three games and is a minus-2.
San Jose: Antti Niemi
Vancouver: Roberto Luongo
Niemi was a huge difference-maker for the Sharks in the previous round against Detroit with a 2.36 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. He stopped 80 of 84 shots in Games 6 and 7. Niemi was also the goalie who knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs last season when he played for Chicago. That being said, he also knocked the Sharks out with four straight wins.
Luongo has answered the bell since being benched to start Game 6 against Chicago. He has won five of seven starts and has allowed only 12 goals. He had a 1.63 GAA and .933 save percentage against Nashville, though the test should be tougher against the Sharks. He was 1-0-1 with a 0.96 GAA and .975 save percentage in two starts against San Jose in the regular season.
San Jose: Antero Niittymaki
Vancouver: Cory Schneider
Niittymaki has not played since Game 5 against Los Angeles. He has played in only two games this postseason, both in relief, and has a win with 29 saves against 30 shots.
Schneider hasn't played since hurting himself in Game 6 against Chicago when Michael Frolik
beat him on a penalty shot early in the third period. He played three games in that Chicago series, including twice in relief of Luongo. He is healthy.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl