Sharks Close Out Wings, Pens Move A Step Closer

Steve O Speak

It has taken a couple of years but the San Jose Sharks finally have advanced to the conference finals, and did so by going through their biggest rival. Since hockey returned from the lockout the Sharks have been one of the best young teams in the NHL during the regular season, but have yet to live up to the hype in the postseason. San Jose’s ineptness in the postseason reached new heights last year, when as the President’s Cup winner they couldn’t advance past the first round. While the top seeded Sharks had already made it past round one they faced a long time foe in the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit had been the Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Finals the past two seasons, and posed a dangerous threat to the Sharks this year. Despite being just a 5th seed the Red Wings had the talent and experience to beat the Sharks and even return to the Stanley Cup Finals. Given the Sharks recent history of disappointment in the playoffs, it seemed as though the Red Wings could have had a chance if they could win early in the series.

The Sharks ensured their victory over the Red Wings by taking a 3-0 lead in the series. But it wasn’t as easy as it looks on paper. San Jose won each game by the score of 4-3, including being taken into overtime in the third game. It is a good thing San Jose won that third game, because they got embarrassed in Game Four. As they were outscored 7-1, and allowed 4 first period goals to Johan Franzen. Had the Sharks not won the 3rd game in overtime, this would have been a completely different series. Luckily for them the 3-1 series lead was pretty insurmountable, and they were able to close it out last night at home with a 2-1 win.

Now the Sharks are heading to the Conference Finals with a likely match-up against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks won’t be an easy match-up, but the Sharks have the talent and experience to beat them, and finally make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This could be the year where their luck changes.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in a brutal struggle with the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens knocked off the Presidents Cup winning Washington Capitals in the first round, and have given the defending Stanley Cup Champions all they can handle in this series. The Pens have yet to be down in this series, and stayed ahead of the curve last night at home with a 2-1 victory. But after Thursday’s tough 3rd period loss to the Canadiens, the Penguins know they can’t take the Habs for granted, and will look to close out the series in Montreal on Monday.

The Canadiens have relied on their goalie Jaroslav Halak to carry them this postseason against two of the best scoring teams in the NHL. Pittsburgh has had a little bit more success than the Capitals so far, but not by much. Halak has been out of this world in these playoffs, and has put together a performance that rivals Ryan Miller’s during the Olympics. For the Habs to win the Halak wall will need to stay intact for two more games, otherwise the Penguins will advance to the next round.

With the way the Pens and Habs are playing, I believe the winner of this series ends up representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pens are the defending champs, but went into this postseason as underdogs (quite similar to last year). So far they have shown the playoff drive, and against any other team would have already had this series wrapped up. But as the Capitals learned first had, beware of the Canadiens, and especially Halak. Pittsburgh needs just one more win to return to the Conference Finals, but against this team they will need to play their best hockey to advance.

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