The Western Conference semifinals is once again the meeting place for the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings. Tonight, the Red Wings travel to the HP Pavilion to get things started in game one, looking avenge last season's 4-1 series drubbing. Things are different this year, though ... for the Red Wings, not too different: they were largely dominant in the regular season, played the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs, and now are playing the Sharks. The difference here is that it took Detroit seven games to put away Phoenix in 2009-2010, but this year only needed four dominant games to put them down in a sweep.
In that four game sweep, everything was working for the Red Wings (it would have to be to get a sweep, no?). Pavel Datsyuk led the way for the Red Wings with two goals and four assists. All of Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rafalski and Patrick Eaves notched two goals apiece to their credit as well, while Valtteri Flippula had four assists to go with his lone goal. They did all of this without Henrik Zetterberg, who suffered an injury and missed the entire first round. Bad news for the Sharks is that he is expected to return for game one. Goaltender Jimmy Howard was good for a .915 save percentage and a 2.50 GAA in the opening round.
On the flip-side, the Sharks had seven different players who lit the lamp twice over the opening series versus the Los Angeles Kings. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Logan Couture, Jason Demers and Patrick Marlaeu had two goals apiece, while Joe Pavelski had three and Ryane Clowe had four. Pavelski, Thornton and Devin Setoguchi had overtime heroics, with three game winners in extra time over the six games played. Pavelski was a thorn in Detroit's side last playoffs, getting four goals and three assists over the five games played. Thornton had three goals and five assists during those games, as well.
Antti Niemi will be looking to have a stronger performance in round two, and will get that started tonight in game one. Niemi had a 3.99 GAA and a paltry .863 save percentage against the Kings, which forced Antero Niittymaki into the game twice in relief, where he looked very good.
One key to the game will be the power play, as Detroit scored four times on fifteen chances with the man advantage, while the Sharks only put two in net on twenty-three tries. The flipside to that is the fact that the Red Wings gave up six power play goals on eighteen penalty kill shifts against the Coyotes. It will be interesting to see how that equates to potential Sharks goals with the man advantage.
These are two juggernauts going at it, and the only result that would be surprising at this point would be a four-game sweep either way. Game one is tonight on CSN California at 7:00 p.m.