Are San Jose Sharks the Team to Beat in the West?

By Mark Donatiello

If last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs are any indication, the key to postseason success is getting hot at the right time. If that’s the case, the San Jose Sharks could be the team to beat in the West.

After a horrible start to the shortened 2013 season, the Sharks surged into the postseason and quickly disposed of a talented Vancouver Canucks team, sweeping one of the most experienced teams in the playoff field. Led by consistent goaltending and suddenly-hot, veteran scoring, the Sharks look a lot like last year’s two respective conference champions.

The New Jersey Devils went on a long winning streak to end the 2011-12 season, surging into the postseason, like the Sharks, as a six-seed. They rode their momentum to a Stanley Cup appearance after finally getting healthy in the final weeks of the year.

A hot goaltender in Martin Brodeur helped New Jersey outlast their opponents while a high-energy forecheck stole games from higher seeds. A balanced, deep attack and a dynamic top-line carried New Jersey.

In the West, the Los Angeles Kings may have been the hottest team in hockey when the playoffs rolled around as they barely squeaked into the postseason. Right now, no one is playing as well as the Sharks, who cruised through their first round matchup with four upset victories.

Far from perfect, the Sharks showed they could win in a number of fashions by sweeping Vancouver. They blew the Canucks out of the water in Game 3, and scored clutch goals to win tight contests throughout the rest of the series. They came from behind, they held onto leads and they dominated puck possession when it mattered most.

Veteran leaders stepped up, and Antti Niemi stopped nearly 94 percent of the shots he faced. Joe Pavelski could be playing better than any skater in the NHL, and the core of this team carried them. The Sharks, at times, simply looked unstoppable.

With all the momentum in the world, the Sharks look like they could be the favorites in the West, even as a six-seed. Still, it’s hard to sleep on the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

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