You know, I really wanted to go through and evaluate a few things in depth before this series began, but I've really been beaten to the punch. Nevertheless, I had a few things I wanted to get off my chest that haven't really been covered by others, and I've still got 2 or so hours before gametime, so why the hell not?
Despite the fact I believe the Flames will lose this series, I think it certainly has the potential to be a lot closer than a skimming of the statistics would indicate. I think Matt did a terrific job of coming up with reasons to pick the Flames (link above), but I have a couple more (continuing his list of 7).
8. Miikka Kiprusoff - You can show Evgeni Nabokov's stats from this year until your head explodes, but one outstanding season from Nabokov and one 'off' season from Kipprusoff does not make them equal goalies. As Matt mentioned, San Jose were the 'team to beat' in 2004, 2006, etc. but Nabokov got outplayed in 2004, and he was totally pulled in 2006. For my money I'll take Kiprusoff any day of the week. He'll need to be at his best, but in my opinion he's the better goaltender, and goaltending IS the playoffs.
9. Patrick Marleau - In my opinion, as long as this guy is the Sharks captain, they will not win. That's not to say Marleau isn't a good player, but some guys are simply not meant to be captains. Theoren Fleury wasn't a captain, Mike Modano wasn't a captain, and judging by Marleau's big game disappearing act, he isn't a captain either. He was given multiple opportunities to play for Team Canada and always brought forth his worst effort, in last year's playoffs against Detroit he completely disappeared. Leadership matters, and it could be the difference.
Another thing I haven't seen anyone talk about is coaching, which to me sort of matters. Who has the edge? Well Mike Keenan hasn't coached a playoff game since 1995- 1996 season (St. Louis Blues) but he does have a Stanley Cup (Rangers, 93-94) under his belt (and multiple appearances in the finals, Flyers 84-85, 86-87, Chicago 91-92) with a 92-79 record.
Ron Wilson made it to the finals once (Washington, 97-98), and the conference finals once (San Jose 03-04...well we all know that one).
One interesting thing about both these coaches is that both of them have highly significant victories for their respective countries in the international stage.
Keenan of course won the 1987 Canada Cup, considered by some to be the greatest hockey ever played. Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr, Larionov, Makarov, Fetisov all in their prime. By today's standards the hockey is a bit unsophisticated, but the talent involved is indisputable.
Ron Wilson won the re-organized Canada Cup, renamed the World Cup, for Team USA in 1996, probably a more significant victory in USA Hockey history than the miracle on ice, if only for the fact it was a best on best tournament and it was a best of three. Any team can beat any team once, but to Team USA to beat Team Canada in a best of three in dramatic fashion certainly speaks to Wilson's credibility.
Based on record alone Keenan probably has the edge, but his last playoff victory came over 10 years ago. That could play in as an edge in desire, or disadvantage in terms of modern day experience.
The other thing is, and I don't know how relevant this is, I was told today by someone who is a San Jose Sharks locker room regular that he has never seen this team so calm and loose. He told me the whole team as of yesterday is cracking jokes, keeping it light, they don't seem pressured at all. He told me Anaheim looked the same way last year.
Anyway, I guess the gist of this post is that while the Flames will most likely lose, the definately have a chance. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.