(Ed. Note: Welcome to Round 2 coverage of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where we flip the format and get right to the point with 11 keys to each series. Enjoy!)
The San Jose Sharks (46-30-6, 98 points) calmly eliminated the Los Angeles Kings in five games, ousting their arch rivals. The Nashville Predators (41-27-14, 96 points) rallied to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in seven games, costing Bruce Boudreau his job.
The Sharks and Predators met in the first-round in 2006 and 2007, with the Sharks winning both series in five games. Not to say that was a while ago, but Paul Kariya was the leading scorer for the Preds.
They meet again in the Western Conference Pacific Division Final, despite the Predators playing in the Central. Such is playoffs.
Here are 11 keys to victory for the Sharks and Predators.
1. The Top Line
Arguably the best line in the playoffs thus far was the freight train of Joe Thornton (1 goal, 2 assists), Joe Pavelski (5 goals) and Tomas Hertl (1 goal, 1 assist). Together, they scored seven of the team’s 16 goals overall against the Kings, and five of their 10 even strength goals.
They were also the only three Sharks forwards to out-possess the Kings in 5v5 score-adjusted Corsi, which is seriously impressive against the best possession team in the NHL.
2. Josi and Weber
Josi skated 27:16 and Weber skated 26:36 per game, scoring two goals and notching three assists. More importantly, they limited Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to a lone assist in the final two games of their first-round series win. They're as good a defensive pair as you’ll find, on one of the league’s deepest blue lines.
Oh, and the goalie’s not bad, either.
3. Rinne vs. Jones
Rinne’s .921 EV save percentage isn’t spectacular, but that’s a byproduct of giving up eight goals in Games 4 and 5. Otherwise, he was strong in the first two road wins in the series and 62 of 64 shots in their two straight wins to close out the Ducks.
Martin Jones goes outplayed his mentor Jonathan Quick in the first round, posting a .927 EV save percentage. The Sharks did solid work in front of him, limiting the Kings to 26.6 shots per game, but Jones was up to the task. Still, he was 0-2-0 with a 3.27 GAA and .868 save percentage against the Preds this season.
Still, Rinne’s one of the few goalies in this postseason that can just decide you’re not getting one by him that night. The Preds could use one or two of those.
4. Predators Power Play
The Predators had 26 power plays against the Anaheim Ducks and scored once. Now, the Ducks had the best penalty kill in the NHL this season, so there’s that. And the Sharks gave up three goals on 14 power plays against the Kings and had the 21st best kill in the regular season.
Nashville had the No. 10 power play in the NHL during the regular season (19.7 percent). Let’s see if the their struggles in the first round were a result of the Ducks' kill or a postseason slump.
5. Rest vs. Right Back At It
The Sharks haven’t played since last Friday. The Predators eliminated the Ducks on Wednesday.
While the week off will ultimately benefit a veteran team, this kind of layoff can take the edge off early in a series – ask the Lightning about their stink-bomb in Game 1 against the New York Islanders.
And as the Predators have shown, give them an inch in a road game and they’ll take a mile.
6. Colin Wilson
If you’re looking for postseason difference makers for Nashville, look no further.
He had two goals and three assists in the series, tied with Weber with five points for tops among skaters. This was after a five-goal performance in six games against the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
“He was probably our best player in the playoffs (last year) and he’s started off basically where he left off last year. He’s going to be really interesting to follow during these playoffs,” said Filip Forsberg.
7. The Middle
The Predators made their big move for Ryan Johansen this season out of necessity. The center spot is critical when matchup up against the West’s elite teams.
That said, the Sharks hydra of Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau up the gut is something few teams can match, and certainly not the Predators. Johansen has one goal in seven games, but has 13 points in 14 career games against the Sharks. Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher have one assist each.
8. The Poise
The Predators were able to pounce on the Ducks in Games 6 and 7 because it was a tension convention for their opponents, as is the case with a Bruce Boudreau playoff team.
That used to be the Sharks, of course. But they passed more than a few tests against the Kings, showing that – perhaps – Peter DeBoer’s squad won’t allow the ghosts of playoffs’ passed to haunt them.
9. Brent Burns
The bearded freak led the Sharks in scoring with two goals and six assists against the Kings, outplaying Drew Doughty and generally being outstanding. He’s a complete defenseman after years of that “forward playing ‘D’” criticism, and “dominant” best describes how he’s been this season.
10. DeBoer vs. Laviolette
Enough hasn’t been said about the performances DeBoer has coaxed out of a veteran team. He’s had the right temperament, shown the right deference and has hit a sweet spot between accountability and being a players’ coach.
Laviolette is now 5-1 in Game 7s, and once again showed his talent for understanding what pieces to move around to get the most out his lineup.
Solid coaching battle here, with two guys that can, on occasion, bring a little snark to their media comments.
Sharks in five. The layoff doesn’t hurt them, the top line and Burns dominate and the bruises the Preds took in a physical series against the Ducks are apparent.
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