Dan Boyle when asked about the Sharks next opponent said "It doesn't matter to me who we play but I do know they are going to be a good hockey team."
He's right, the Sharks are in a pick your poison waiting game to determine if they play the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings who just disposed of the very good St. Louis Blues by winning 4 straight games to win the series 4-2. Or the Sharks get the Chicago Blackhawks who won the President's trophy with the most points in the regular season and were the only team with a winning percentage over .800 (.802).
Interestingly, the 3 best home teams in the regular season were: Los Angeles 19-4-1 Chicago 18-3-3 San Jose 17-2-5
Keys to the Series
My RAM Trucks 3 Keys to the Vancouver series were: 1. Goaltending 2. Don't be the first to blink 3. Special Teams
Goaltending will always be a key to a series because it's that important in hockey. Niemi bested his Vancouver counterparts and the Sharks skaters did the rest both on the special teams and winning the mental battle.
I've had time to start thinking about the RAM Trucks Keys to the next series and here is a double dose, one set of keys for each potential tough matchup.
Goaltending Niemi won the Stanley Cup as the goaltender for the Blackhawks back in 2010. As a Vezina candidate he is having his best season as a pro and I'm pretty sure his motivation level would be high to beat his former team. Chicago has a goaltending tandem that has been tremendous, so far, this season.
2. Win the Battle of the Prime Real Estate
In this case prime real estate is net front presence. The Blackhawks can spread the ice but they also have a blue collar work ethic and attack the net as well as any team in the NHL, starting with Captain Jonathan Toews. The Sharks don't need to control the entire ice surface but they will need to be better in front of both nets where over 90% of goals are scored.
3. Transition Game
Chicago has a tremendous transition game because they have such good overall team speed, and that includes both defense to offense and offense to defense. Beat them at that game, or minimize their transition game and your chances of winning the series go up. Los Angeles
Tight checking. Low scoring. Always someone in your face. No time or space. That's LA hockey and it's frustrating to play against and tests your moxie and patience. The Sharks have to be prepared for 60 minutes plus every night with air-tight defense first hockey that requires incredible focus and concentration.
2. Every battle counts ... a lot!
This is LA's bread and butter - they wear you down by winning battles which wears you down mentally. The Sharks match up well in this category but it will take an enormous toll every shift, every period, every game.
3. Confidence thru goaltending
When your goalie exudes confidence it reverberates throughout the lineup because the players know the last line of defense is the goalie and he has you covered if you make a mistake. Niemi vs Quick is an enticing matchup because they are the goalies who have won 2 of the last 3 Stanley Cups and they are both on top of their game right now.
Bring it On
So the Sharks get to test themselves against a team that beat them in the Conference Finals in 2010 and won all 3 games this year, albeit the last game was Feb 22 and the Sharks are a different team now.
Or the Sharks get to play divisional and state rival, who are also the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
As Boyle said, the Sharks are going to be playing a good hockey team next round and I guarantee Sharks and hockey fans are in store for some amazing hockey.