2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals – San Jose Sharks vs Vancouver Canucks Series Odds, Predictions and Preview: The 2011 NHL playoffs have been full of surprises, but the top two seeds in the Western Conference survived the mayhem and will now meet for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. The top-seed Vancouver Canucks have been the best team in the league all year, scoring 10 more points than the second-best team in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Sharks were continued a recent run of success, grabbing the No. 2 seed and returning to the conference finals for the second year in a row. With plenty of star-caliber talent on the ice for both teams, this series is more than worthy of being a conference final.
After nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead in the opening round against Chicago, the Canucks took care of business in the semifinals against Nashville. The Sharks took the opposite approach to reach the conference final, winning easily in the opening round against Los Angeles but needing seven games to get past Detroit after going up 3-0 to start the series. Both teams have been pushed to the brink, and both teams have survived. It is hard to imagine either team being an easy out with the chance to play for the Stanley Cup on the line.
Both offenses are designed to score in bunches and are keyed by two of the best centers in the NHL. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin led the league with 75 assists this season, while San Jose’s Joe Thorton continues to be one of the best at his position. The Canucks have two primary sources of firepower on the wing in Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Both players scored more than 40 goals this season, and Daniel Sedin led the NHL in total points. Patrick Marleau is the primary goal scorer for the Sharks, but the team features a more balanced attack. Not a single player scored more than 40 goals for San Jose, but seven players had at least 20. Overall, the Canucks offense was a bit more prolific, scoring an NHL best 262 goals during the regular season compared to 248 goals for the Sharks.
In net, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo will face San Jose’s Antti Niemi. Luongo is the more decorated of the two goaltenders, and during both the regular season and the playoffs, he has put up better numbers than Niemi. In fact, Luongo was a top-three goaltender during the season. His 2.11 goals against average was the second best mark in the league, and his .928 save percentage was third best. The play of Luongo is a big reason why the Canucks gave up a league-low 185 goals.
The X-factor in the series for Vancouver is likely going to be Kesler. After putting together some excellent regular season numbers, he has been even better in the playoffs. He leads the team with 15 points in the 13 playoff games, and Kesler has been using his large frame to dominate on both the offensive and defensive end of the ice. If he continues to plat at such a high level, Kesler and the Sedin twins could prove too much for the Sharks to handle.
For San Jose, the play of Niemi is going to dictate the team’s chances in this series. He doesn’t have to blank the Canucks every time out, but Niemi has to find a way to hold Vancouver to three goals or less on a consistent basis. Granted, the play of his teammates will play a role as well, but Niemi can’t give up any easy goals if San Jose is going to continue its playoff run.
As successful as the Sharks have been this season, the fact remains that Vancouver not only compiled the league’s best record, but the Canucks scored the most goals and gave up the fewest in the process. Being the best team in the regular season doesn’t guarantee playoff success, but it doesn’t hurt a team’s chances either. With a better goaltender and more weapons on offense, Vancouver should be able to march on to the finals.
Prediction: Vancouver Canucks Win in 6 Games
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2011 NHL Playoffs – Series Prices from SBG Global Sportsbook
San Jose Sharks vs Vancouver Canucks
San Jose Sharks +130
Vancouver Canucks -150
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