Western Conference Finals Game 5 – San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks

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Now that the 2011 Preakness betting is over, hockey fans in San Jose can start to wonder what is going on with the Sharks. To say that the Sharks’ performance in game four was a disappointment would be an understatement. The more accurate thing to say is that Stanley Cup champion goaltender Antti Niemi continues to concern Sharks fans with his playoff performances. Prior to the 2010-2011 season, the NHL news was buzzing about the release of San Jose Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and the signing of Antti Niemi. San Jose fans had long placed blame for the Sharks’ lack of playoff success on Nabokov. After game four, many Sharks fans were already trying to find ways to lure Nabokov back.

The Vancouver Canucks just keep doing what they do, and that is applying offensive pressure on the opposing net. The difference between game three and game four is that the Canucks could not get many quality shots on goal. But, what they did get on net seemed to go in. The price per head Canucks fans can stop worrying about goaltender Roberto Luongo. After Luongo’s performance in game four, it is obvious that Luongo has finally found a playoff groove that is conducive to winning. Luongo was brilliant in the third period of game four, despite giving up two goals. By that point, the game was already decided and Luongo’s to win.

San Jose Sharks

There is no nice way to put it; the Sharks lost their chances of winning a Stanley Cup when they released Evgeni Nabokov. Antti Niemi has been spectacular in streaks this season, but the playoffs have not been one of those streaks. In game four, Niemi faced 13 shots and allowed four goals. In the second period of game four, Niemi allowed three goals on four shots. The Sharks could not have played more desperate defense in game four. They blocked shots and tried to keep the Sedin twins away from the net. But bad positional play by Niemi undermined everything the Sharks tried to do defensively. Niemi has been a problem for San Jose this entire series. He will be the key to a San Jose win or loss in game five, and it is not looking good for the Sharks.

Vancouver Canucks

While Antti Niemi was allowing pretty much any shot on goal to go in during game four, Roberto Luongo was in the Vancouver net making 33 saves on 35 shots. Luongo stood up to a 17-shot third period from the Sharks to preserve the win. Luongo is the one element that the Canucks needed to see production from to go deep in these playoffs and, after a rocky start in the first two rounds, Luongo has become a solid force in net. The Sedin twins are causing all kinds of problems in the San Jose defense, which helps to offset the fact that the Vancouver defense does not seem to have an answer for the Sharks offense. If Luongo can hold up, Vancouver will win this series.

The Bottom Line

Luongo has a long history of falling apart in the playoffs. As bad as Niemi looked in game four, the Vancouver defense looked even worse. The big difference in game four was Luongo. He should also be a big difference in game five as well.