Series breakdown: Canucks (1) vs. Sharks (2)
Season series: Canucks win, 3-1
Dater: Eastern Final breakdown
Snapshot: If you're a believer in the value of the journey, this series is for you. Both of these teams have traveled the long, tough, winding road to get a shot at the coveted chalice. This is as it should be -- the West's top two of the regular season meeting in a clash that has been steadily building to this point. The Sharks and Canucks have endured plenty of playoff heartbreak only to dig in and get better. This postseason, each has seen a 3-0 series lead disappear and found the resolve to prevail in a Game 7.
The question now becomes, given all the preceding drams, could both of these teams be susceptible to exhaling and slipping? Human nature says yes. But the Canucks have had an extended rest, so managing that mindset certainly was part of their downtime. The Sharks, meanwhile, have real, practical experience in what happens when you take pause in the playoffs. They know how quickly things can change if a team loses focus. Being swept by the Blackhawks a year ago in this same situation serves as Exhibit A. I expect both teams to be ready.
Spotlight's on: Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi. Luongo has a gold medal on his resume from last year and Niemi a Stanley Cup. Still, both goaltenders have had highs and lows this spring. Luongo overcame his nemesis in winning Game 7 over the Blackhawks in the first round and Niemi finally closed out the Red Wings in Game 7 of the second after seeing third period leads in Games 5 and 6 turn into losses. With the considerable offensive threats on both sides, neither goaltender can afford to turn in a mediocre effort. Consistently very good is their minimum standard now.
X-Factor for Canucks: Daniel Sedin. With all of the star power in this series, Daniel has to score regularly. A quiet set versus Nashville is one thing. The Canucks were deep enough to overcome his dip in production. This time, his ability to hit the score sheet might prove to be the difference between the Canucks going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994 or their going home.
X-Factor for Sharks: Dan Boyle. He was magnificent in pushing the pace against the Red Wings. He battled relentlessly down low in his own zone as well. Those elements need to be in full force yet again as Boyle serves as the engine from the backend for the Sharks' machine.
The Pick: Canucks in six.