NHL Western Conference semifinals

SHARKS VS. DETROIT

STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH

Both coaches say they like to match their best players against the opposition's best, so expect to see a lot of skilled talent on the ice at the same time. And that requires commitment to offense and defense by San Jose when skating against Detroit's top forward, Pavel Datsyuk, or Henrik Zetterberg. "You have to be strong on both sides of the puck," Patrick Marleau said. "You make a mistake or take a shift off and it usually ends up in the back of your net." Sometimes Detroit coach Mike Babcock keeps Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the same line, sometimes he splits them up. Sharks coach Todd McLellan isn't getting caught up in what the setup will be at the start. "They'll be apart, they'll be together. I know exactly how it'll work over there," he said. Will McLellan make adjustments accordingly? "We'll see."

IN THE NETS

Based on 2010 playoffs and 82 games that followed, give the Sharks the edge with Antti Niemi, a proven commodity with a Stanley Cup ring. Niemi also put up better individual statistics (2.38 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) than Detroit starter Jimmy Howard (2.79, .908) over the regular season. But that edge disappears when you look at the last two weeks. While Niemi was yanked twice against Los Angeles and had soft numbers (3.99, .863), Howard was solid if not spectacular against Phoenix (2.50, .915). One intangible: San Jose's success against Howard a year ago -- especially when a harsh-angle shot by Logan Couture in Game 3 somehow squeezed into the Detroit net and might have turned the series around.


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SPECIAL TEAMS

Unlike their matchup with Los Angeles, the Sharks face special teams similar to their own in the regular season. San Jose's power play had a 23.5 percent success rate (second in the NHL), slightly better than Detroit's at 22.3 percent (fifth). Detroit's penalty kill finished with an 82.3 percent success rate (17th), ahead of the Sharks at 79.6 percent (24th) but was far from lights out. Based on performances in the first round, an anemic San Jose power play that scored only 8.7 percent of the time (13th among 16 teams) could get healthy against a Detroit penalty kill that finished 15th with only a 66.7 percent success rate. McLellan looks at special teams differently in the postseason. After every round, he said, "You basically close the book and you start over."

PROJECTED LINES AND DEFENSE PAIRINGS

SHARKS FORWARDS

Patrick Marleau Joe Thornton Devin Setoguchi

Ryane Clowe Logan Couture Dany Heatley

Torrey Mitchell Joe Pavelski Kyle Wellwood

Jamie McGinn Scott Nichol Jamal Mayers

Ben Eager

SHARKS DEFENSE

Douglas Murray Dan Boyle

Marc-Edouard Vlasic Jason Demers

Niclas Wallin Ian White

Justin Braun

SHARKS GOALIES

Antti Niemi

Antero Niittymaki

RED WINGS FORWARDS

Henrik Zetterberg Pavel Datsyuk Tomas Holmstrom

Johan Franzen Valterri Filppula Jiri Hudler

Dan Cleary Justin Abdelkader Todd Bertuzzi

Kris Draper Darren Helm Patrick Eaves

Drew Miller

RED WINGS DEFENSE

Nicklas Lidstrom Brad Stuart

Jonathan Ericsson Brian Rafalski

Niklas Kronwall Ruslan Salei

RED WINGS GOALIES

Jimmy Howard

Chris Osgood

BY THE NUMBERS

Sharks Detroit

Goals for 248 (6th) 261 (2nd)

Goals against 213 (10th) 241 (23rd)

Shots on goal per game 34.5 (1st) 33.6 (2nd)

Shots against per game 28.9 (8th) 30.7 (16th)

Faceoffs won 53.7 (2nd) 51.9 (t3rd)

Penalty minutes per game 11.4 (4th) 9.2 (12th)

-- DAVID POLLAK