When the schedule for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs was announced Sunday night, April 28, the San Jose Sharks learned that they would have 12 days between home games.
The last home game of the regular season was Tuesday, April 23. The next game in San Jose will not be until Cinco de Mayo. That is the price paid for losing the last two games, and a remedy for the road woes must be found if this team is to advance with only three home games on the docket.
On the other hand, they will have played just once in the week since their game in Phoenix ended April 24. Antti Niemi will have had plenty of rest after a heavy workload that included 24 straight starts until getting that night off in the desert. And the team will finally get the practice time coach Todd McLellan laments losing to the condensed 2013 NHL schedule.
The Vancouver Canucks are younger, have not worked either goalie especially hard and had a couple games after clinching the third seed to rest banged-up players. The extra time will benefit them less, helping to level the ice. Since moving Michal Handzus, Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray, a rested San Jose will play fast enough to keep up with them.
The biggest difference between the two NHL teams most associated with underachieving in the Stanley Cup playoffs is in net.
Cory Schneider is again practicing for the Canucks, but questions remain: Is he 100 percent, is he going to be sharp after the time off and can he carry his team to more than one win this year? If he is not fully ready, can Roberto Luongo recapture the greatness he displayed even at times in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals run?
The only questions facing Niemi have to do with his workload. He has demonstrated in the past an ability to handle this much ice time in a short span, though he had his only two bad playoff series after that stretch (also 2011). Nevertheless, being off six of seven days should give him enough rest.
It is possible his time off could hurt, but that is not likely given his consistency throughout 2013. But there will be only three days between the series and his last start Saturday in Los Angeles. The other two times he had that much rest this year he had solid games—a shutout that ended up being a shootout loss and the 3-2 loss in the season finale, in which he played well despite the .889 save percentage. He played well on six of eight occasions following more than two days off in 2011-12, including two shutouts and a 40-save win.
He will be the difference in this series. The photo captions tell who will be the difference in each individual game of the series, in order.