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And the winner will be...
Don't even bother trying to call this one
4/30/13 - By Mike Lee -

If there's one thing I've learned over the years is, don't even bother to try predicting a playoff series that involves the San Jose Sharks. It will only drive you mad. When they're favored, they get bounced early. When they play the underdog, they somehow find a way to get it done. Inevitably, they always find a way to break your heart. Then they qualify for the playoffs and hope springs eternal. This could be the year…or not. Who knows.

The St Louis Blues owned the Sharks in the regular season last season, then pulverized San Jose in the playoffs. If that's the case, then San Jose should breeze through the Canucks in the opening round. Well, easier said than done. Ryan Kessler was injured, the Canucks were embroiled in a goaltending controversy, and Vancouver spent the early part of the season trying to find their identity as a team.

Like the Sharks, they tore up March, winning 9 of 16 games, including their six straight to close out the month. The one team they couldn't seem to beat however, was the Sharks.

On the flip side, the Sharks had a pair of 7-game winning streaks, along with a 7-game losing streak to baffle everyone this season. Are they contender? Pretenders? Something in between?

Two years ago, the Canucks man-handled San Jose in a quick 5 game series that ended with the Canucks ending the series on a fluke goal in double overtime. Vancouver's core essentially remains the same from that roster, while the Sharks have gutted their lineup. The same Sedin twins roam the ice, along with Kessler, Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, and Mason Raymond.

The big change from two seasons ago is who tends the pipes for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo isn't the man anymore. Vancouver gave up on him after last year's post season failure, turning instead to Cory Schneider. Luongo remains on the Canucks roster, because there wasn't a general manager dumb enough to take Luongo's ridiculous contract off the Canucks hands.

The benefit of that situation for Vancouver is that they have a guy that can step in and be dominant if Schneider were to get hurt. It was Luongo who got the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, but people overlook that. The guy can step in and win, especially if he's not the guy. Think about the motivation that would fuel Luongo if he got a chance to show everyone that he should have been the guy all along.

What scares me the most about the Canucks is the balance they have in the scoring department. San Jose scored 124 goals this season, and Logan Couture accounted for 21 of them. Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski scored half the team's goals.

Alex Burrows lead the Canucks with 13 goals, but Vancouver also had 6 guys in double figures. Their defense accounted for 28 goals. San Jose's defense scored 26, but most of Brent Burns' 9 goals came while he was filling in on offense.

If Vancouver figures out that by shutting down Couture, Marleau and Pavelski, there isn't much left in San Jose. The Sharks offense isn't as balanced as the Canucks.

Hopefully you see where I'm going here. Given San Jose's penchant to do the opposite of what you expect, their lack of balance means 14 guys will score goals for them in the first round. Or not. Who knows.

Whatever the case, there are no patsies in the playoffs this year. There are no sure things. Anyone can upset anyone. Even as strong as Chicago has played this season, anything can happen. The team that wins the Cup is the team that gets on a roll at exactly the right time. The best team doesn't necessarily always win (as any Sharks fan can attest).

Given that, the Sharks have as good a shot as any. Yes, they have plenty of playoff demons to exercise, but their also not a sure thing. That is probably the best position they can be in. Nobody expects much, which hopefully how their competition is sizing them up.

We'll know in a week or so how this team stacks up against the equally frustrating Canucks.



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