The Octopus and The Shark
They don't get to choose. But if the Vancouver Canucks were told today they could pick either the San Jose Sharks or the Detroit Red Wings to take on in the Western Conference final, you have to wonder who they'd pick.
On one hand, you have San Jose, a star-crossed team just like the Canucks, a club that - just like the Canucks in the first round against Chicago - has coughed up a 3-0 series lead and now must win Game 7 on home ice to survive and avoid humiliation.
Then you have battered, bruised and aged Detroit, a team with all its star players suffering through one injury or another, yet a team with enough pride and collective will that it has twice in two games overcome third period deficits to force that seventh game.
The Sharks or the Red Wings? If you're Vancouver, just a chance to get back to playing some kind of hockey with flow after a six-game taffy pull with Nashville is what you can hope for most, plus for whichever team survives Thursday's final match to be as worn and fatigued as possible heading into the conference final.
Clearly, the Wings have the Sharks staggered now. The Silicon Valley squad seemed to be on the verge of sweeping Detroit just days ago but now has found itself unable to finish after being in a position to end this series in three consecutive third periods.
In Game 6, Antti Niemi's brilliance and Logan Couture's fifth goal of the post-season seemed to have the Sharks well-positioned to win. But just as they had in winning Game 5 in San Jose 48 hours earlier, the Wings produced goals in pairs, this time one from Henrik Zetterberg and one from Val Filpulla in a 1:46 span to overcome the Sharks' lead and ultimately produce a Detroit triumph.
The Sharks, missing Ryan Clowe after a big hit from Niklas Kronwall in Game 5, tried to shuffle their lineup, bumping non-producer Patrick Marleau off Joe Thornton's line and replacing creating a new line of Marleau, Dany Heatley and Torrey Mitchell. None of it worked, as the Wings dominated the game, and the perenially underachieving Sharks flew home knowing just how awful this will sell in northern California if they become the fourth team in NHL history to blow a three games to none lead in a playoff series.
It's not like the Sharks are getting blown out. They've lost three one-goal games. But while the Wings are getting contributions from throughout their roster, the Sharks seem to be mostly about Couture, Devin Setoguchi and Dan Boyle, and simply don't seem to have enough hands on deck to handle the Wings.
Clowe has been their best forward, and his status for Game 7 is unknown. Ditto for Detroit's Johan Franzen, replaced in the lineup for Game 6 by the ancient Mike Modano, with Jiri Hudler also back in the Detroit lineup in place of Kris Draper.
The Wings seem to be surging, the Sharks stumbling around the final turn of this very good series. From a Vancouver standpoint, the Wings, if they were to survive might well be the tougher opponent, for the always uncertain confidence of San Jose surely has been shaken regardless of the Game 7 result.
The gruelling travel of this series has worn down these two clubs, yet the standard of play seems to be rising, mostly because Detroit keeps pushing it to another level. If the likes of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley have another level themselves, now would be a good time to show it.