With San Jose's speed and Colorado's all-around star power, this will be an entertaining series to watch. The Avalanche have a much greater pedigree and more dominant individual players. But the well-rested Sharks have almost no weaknesses.
San Jose keeps rolling its lines and keeps getting production from various sources. Patrick Marleau's hat trick against the Blues was the rare breakout for a single forward. The Sharks, with underrated players such as Jonathan Cheechoo, are a deep group of committed two-way players. Colorado, though, is exceptionally loaded. Peter Forsberg, perhaps in his final playoffs, is turning in a typically dominant performance. With Peter the Great, Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay, who has played well despite being hampered by injury, the Avs have a pair of top lines that can grab control of a game in a hurry.
Again, this is a little-known bunch in San Jose, but its core of Brad Stuart, Kyle McLaren, Scott Hannan and Mike Rathje is solid and snarling. They won't score much, but they can help limit forechecking by giving back more than they receive. The Avalanche, led by elite blueliners Adam Foote and Rob Blake, are getting solid play from Karlis Skrastins. Still, after the top two, these defenders can be exploited.
A study in contrasts. Colorado's David Aebischer, getting his first chance to start in the playoffs, appeared confident, even cocky, in beating the Stars. And with reason. He clearly outplayed Dallas's Marty Turco, who came in as the more credentialed keeper. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, on the other hand, goes quietly about his business. His play in the late stages of Game 1 against the Blues enabled San Jose to take a 1-0 overtime win and set up the five-game series victory. The pair had almost identical first-round statistics.
Colorado's Tony Granato got a monkey off his back with that first-round win, but he's still under a lot of pressure to show he can coach a series and adapt to the fine-tuning needed at this level. San Jose's Ron Wilson continues to maintain a disciplined, hard-working team. The confidence he's shown in all his players is manifested in their full-effort play. Wilson will find a way to neutralize some aspects of Colorado's attack.
The Avalanche are by far the more skilled on the power play. Sakic is the best man-advantage player in the series, and Blake, with that big shot, may be the best point man in the league. San Jose's improved penalty kill will be tested.
The Avalanche know how to win in these series, and they have a lot of veterans who are starting to smell silver polish. If the Sharks get forwards Scott Thornton (who missed game 5) and Alyn McCauley healthy, they'll get a significant boost. Home ice is a bigger advantage in the always-rocking Shark Tank than in Colorado, where fans tend to get nervous if the team falls behind.
Slight Edge: Sharks
A matchup of front-loaded skill versus roster-deep depth. Colorado may make the Sharks look silly in a game or two, but the Sharks will stay fresh all series and eke this one out. San Jose wins in seven games.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.