The Nashville Predators survived the team’s first Game 7 in franchise history and now have a second round date with the San Jose Sharks. The Predators busted many brackets by ousting the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks.
It will be the third time the teams have met in the postseason. Nashville has never beaten San Jose in a playoff series, as it lost in the 2006 and 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs by an identical four-games-to-one margin.
The Sharks will be well rested as it has been a week since they exorcised a big playoff demon by beating the rival Los Angeles Kings in five games. The Predators are coming in after a physically draining seven-game series against a tough opponent.
Nashville did win two of the three meetings against San Jose this season, but lost the last matchup of the season 3-2 in a shootout on April 2.
As with the first round series against Anaheim, it’s time to get some information on the Sharks. For that, it’s time to talk with The Hockey Writers San Jose Sharks lead writer, Andrew Bensch.
Ministers of Defense
One thing that both the Sharks and Predators have in common is they rely on their blueliners. Nashville has arguably the best pair in the league with Shea Weber and Roman Josi. However, the Sharks boast a stout defense corps of their own with Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, Paul Martin and Justin Braun.
Vlasic is a great puck-mover and an excellent quarterback on the power play. Martin is a jack of all trades and we all know about the beast that is Burns, who led the team with eight points in the first round. The Barrie, Ontario native led defensemen with 27 goals and 75 points during the regular season.
Bensch feels that both Vlasic and Burns deserve Norris Trophy consideration.
San Jose’s top-four defense are as good as any in the league with Vlasic and Burns on separate pairs but both getting Norris buzz.
Bensch does think Josi is one of the best defensemen that casual fans haven’t heard of.
San Jose Sharks Loaded With Depth
The Sharks are arguably one of the deepest teams in the league with three dangerous scoring lines and a fourth line that can step up. San Jose has four players with over 20 goals in the ageless Patrick Marleau, the young Tomas Hertl, former Predator Joel Ward and the red-hot Joe Pavelski. The Sharks also get a lot of goals from their devastating power play.
Joe Thornton has found the fountain of youth with 19 goals and 63 assists for 82 points. Logan Couture (15), Joonas Donskoi (11) and Melker Karlsson (10) also supplied double-digit goal seasons for the Sharks.
Nashville relies on its top two lines, but has gotten some help from lower-six forwards like Colin Wilson and Miikka Salomaki. Someone like a Wilson will have to step up and add goals like they did against Anaheim to take the heat from players like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal.
San Jose’s depth even extends to goaltending as Martin Jones has settled in nicely in his first season as the starter. However, James Reimer can fill in if Jones falters or gets injured. The former Maple Leafs’ netminder has been reborn since leaving Toronto.
Monkey off the Back
San Jose has the benefits of rest and home-ice advantage, but is also feeling pretty good about itself after finally vanquishing Los Angeles in a playoff series. The Kings have tormented the Sharks for years, but Pavelski and Burns made sure history would not repeat itself.
Sharks fans smell that this could be the year to get to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
However, Bensch is somewhat cautious despite predicting the Sharks repeating history with another five-game victory. He notes previous playoff disappointments can temper some fans’ enthusiasm.
The Sharks tend to struggle when they are the favorite. I think they are stronger in really every facet of the game than Nashville.
I did get the number of games correct (seven), but I picked Anaheim. However, I think San Jose’s depth will eventually find a way and it will win the series in six.