Saturday, April 26, 2008

San Jose Sharks / Dallas Stars - We Meet Again!

As I have been reading over the past couple weeks since the playoffs have started, there are more than 2 view points as to who is doing well, who is struggling and who shouldn't be in the post season. The first round in the Stanley Cup playoffs proved that every team in Round One deserved to be there and they fought to be there. Well with exception to Ottawa … they “wanted” to be there, but Pittsburgh had a difference of opinion. Now, looking forward the San Jose Sharks survived the most physical and intense playoff series in the first round with a strong game 7 performance against the Calgary Flames. The Flames pushed the Sharks so close to their breaking point, but they would not allow the Flames the opportunity to capitalize on anything. A fifth seed Dallas Stars lineup will be an even more difficult match up. The Stars, as with Calgary, had regular season success registering a 4-2-2 record against the Sharks. Dallas has established a high intensity work ethic 5-on-5, on the penalty kill, and on the power play that is perfectly suited for playoff hockey. Dallas also plays a smash mouth, gritty style of hockey, relies on a more balanced offense, and puts most of their faith and superstitious beliefs on an aging athletic goaltender named Marty Turco - Who will probably not be pulled from the net at the first sign of adversity.

Watching and reading game recaps about the first round proved to me there were a number of warning signs exhibited by the Sharks, primarily their performance early in game 1, allowing Calgary the ability to net four unanswered goals in game 3, and then there is the entire 60 minute performance en route to a 2-0 shutout loss in an elimination game 6. San Jose has depth unmatched by any team left in the postseason, but the shift-to-shift intensity needs to improve in order to realize that potential. A strength for San Jose during the regular season, a mobile puck-moving defense that initiates offense, had trouble getting into gear against the Calgary forecheck. The Flames gave the Dallas Stars a blueprint for how to shut down the Sharks offense. San Jose will need to rely on its leaders, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, Milan Michalek, and Joe Pavelski to win battles and score goals from in front of the net.

The Dallas Stars will not get the free penalties that helped them dethrone last season's Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round. In fact, if the Sharks coaching staff could take anything from the first round and apply it to round two it should be to lobby the referee's more often. They have been labeled "the hardest working team in the NHL". Defenseman Stephane Robidas may be the MVP of the first round for Dallas, scoring a goal and 5 assists while defenseman Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher were recovering from injuries. It is pretty much guaranteed that Mattias Norstrom and rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen will face a heavy load trying to contain a Shark attack that will keep pressing the action. Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards may be the most difficult offensive threats on the surface, but the Stars have a gritty lineup top to bottom that will make San Jose pay for turnovers and inopportune penalties.

Lets jump into the Way Back Machine and remember that the Sharks and Stars met twice in 3 years (1998, 2000), and, at least one of those series was a big one. Ed Belfour, Owen Nolan, Bryan Marchment, Joe Nieuwendyk, Derian Hatcher, Mike Ricci. Ah, the good ole days!!! Can we take this round and cultivate some new leaders, some new stories and re-write some of the past history that haunts us every year? I think we can … I think San Jose can beat the Stars … they just need to play Sharks Hockey!!!

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