It's all over in the Western Conference and I have a spiffy new graphic to illustrate what happened on Sunday afternoon, just look to your immediate right. Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have eliminated the San Jose Sharks in four games and did it in fine fashion as well. The Blackhawks left a glimmer of hope on the table during Game Four for the Sharks, going down 2-0 in the 2nd period, but they decided to really flex their muscles and make good use of some weak play in the San Jose zone, scoring a couple of garbage goals to turn the tides and then it was Dustin Byfuglien again putting the nail in the coffin... the final nail this time.
All in all, it was a pretty good game on Sunday afternoon, the Sharks had plenty of sustained pressure in the 1st period and brought a bit of that into the 2nd period, but there was that nagging feeling that the Blackhawks were not out of it and that it was only going to take one tiny moment to change the complexion of the whole game. Unfortunately, Dan Boyle helping one past Evgeni Nabokov again in these playoffs was just the right catalyst for the comeback and the Blackhawks were then set on their way to tie it up at the end of two periods and then salt it away like it was nobody's business.
The Sharks did manage to put together a better run than most years, but it really seemed like they had nothing left in the tank by the time the Blackhawks came around. You have to admit, the Blackhawks stellar pairings on defense were very good at keeping the Sharks scorers at bay for four games and they made Antti Niemi's job a little easier, but I think a lot of people (not just myself) were expecting a much better fight out of the Sharks, possibly making it a Conference Finals for the ages.
Leading the Sharks in playoff scoring for the pool this year was Joe Pavelski, he finished with 20 points in the pool, thanks to 9 goals, 3 winners and 8 assists. He was almost nowhere to be seen in the Conference Finals and the Sharks were really leaning on him for his points in these playoffs. Evgeni Nabokov finished with 18 points, thanks to 8 wins and a shutout this year. Nabokov was playing well enough to get those Sharks through to this point, but the Sharks didn't play well enough to make up for his play against a stronger Blackhawks team.
Like I had mentioned in the series preview, the Sharks were not the favourites in the pool, as they had less selections than the Blackhawks at the beginning of the playoffs, so there are a lot of teams with Blackhawks going into the Stanley Cup Finals. I knocked out 138 selections last night from the pool and now we're getting down to the nittty-gritty. Since not many people picked Montreal in the pool, we're already starting to count teams with 6 players (the most you can have in the Finals) now and there are 14 teams. There might be a sprinkle of teams left with a Canadiens player in those 14, so we'll have to wait and see what the final count is after that series finishes.
Remarkably, 25 teams only have 3 players left and I think we all know that those are all Chicago players left, because the Eastern Conference did not work out for many like they thought it would.