San Jose Sharks (45-13-10) at Phoenix Coyotes (28-35-6)
(It's YouTube clip madness with this post! It's all good stuff linked below, I promise!)
Two wins. Well, hello Mr. Fancy pants! Two wins, one against an overachieving Kings team and one against an underachieving Ducks team, does not mean that all is well. In other words, let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet. (The link goes to the infamous clip from Pulp Fiction, if you've never heard that phrase before. I'm not going all gay porno on you guys...not that there's anything wrong with that.)
One of the key themes through the past three games (Minnesota, LA, Anaheim) has been that the overall team defense has been much better. The penalty kill has regained its poise as well, and a big part of this is the return of Marcel Goc. Yup, I said it -- Marcel Goc is an important part of this team, and that's something I probably wouldn't have agreed with a year ago. Goc wins faceoffs and is a very smart defensive forward. Even though he may never break the 15-goal barrier in a season, he shuts his mouth and knows his role well, and the team is more steady with him in there.
Coming out of the lockout, the Sharks were poised to take the next step. Their young and somewhat unheralded group of forwards were speedy and talented, and I distinctly remember a conversation with a friend where we agreed that they couldn't all go dry at once. Of course, they did, then Marco Sturm was traded and some dude named Joe Thornton came around.
Well, now I look at things and I think the same thought -- they can't all go dry at once. It's almost shocking how ineffective the Marleau/Thornton/Setoguchi combination has been, but is it because teams are getting better at shutting them down? They still have shifts where it's pure domination down low (though not as frequent) and they still create those scoring chances. For whatever reason, they're not going in. Of course, this is all about team, right? The Sharks are lucky that the second line is keeping things together for the time being. A win is a win, no matter who scores. It's just much easier to get that win when you have everyone scoring and you win each game 5-2.
So now we've got Wayne "Mr. Furious" Gretzky and his Phoenix Coyotes. The Yotes were supposed to be a team on the rise this season, and for a good part of the year (basically up till February), they were fulfilling that expectation. But for whatever reason, Olli Jokinen's chemistry with his teammates was more awkward than the awful voice acting in the first Resident Evil game, so they blew things up and are waiting for next year. Which, of course, makes them ripe for the picking. That makes this game even more difficult and more important, because these are the types of games that can really propel the confidence of a team. A strong offensive game can build on the solid defensive showings of the past few games, and can rebuild the Sharks into something better...stronger...faster.
And of course, not afraid of the second round.
Prediction: Sharks 5, Coyotes 2. Goals from Marleau (2), Thornton, Michale, and Boyle.