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Michael Taylor 29th Apr 2010 - 14:47

San Jose finally making Stanley Cup claims

The San Jose Sharks overcame some early Western Conference quarter-final wobbles against the Colorado Avalanche to finally establish themselves as Stanley Cup contenders.

Todd McLellan's side once again entered the playoffs as the West's top seed but after two years of abject late season failure few punters were tempted to invest in better luck.

However, Joe Pavelski and co were desperate to avoid a repeat of last year's embarrassment when they were eliminated, after a President's Trophy winning season, in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks.

They quickly responded to going down 2-1 in the series, firstly grounding out a tight OT win in game 4 behind another big contribution from Pavelski, and then completing the recovery sweeping the next to by an aggregate score of 10-2.

It remains to be seen whether the likes of Ryane Clowe, Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton have the mettle to take San Jose to a first Stanley Cup championship but, for now, the perennial regular season powerhouses can look forward to a defining series against Coyotes or Red Wings.

True there's plenty of work to do, a good part of it getting the cynical HP Pavilion behind them, but they're unlikely to be intimidated by either of their potential semi-final match-ups so don't be surprised if punters finally get on side and drag their 5/1 price in.

Eastern Conference

Away from California and moving into the East it appears the path to the Stanley Cup is being left open for Sidney Crosby and his defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

New Jersey have fallen, Buffalo's run came to an end and now the Washington Capitals, easily the best team in hockey through the regular season, are the latest Presidents' Trophy winner to fall victim to a dread #8 seed.

Despite a pretty tepid regular season most people agreed the Penguins would be a much different prospect at the business end - not that it's hard to guess a team with Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Depuis has deep playoff potential.

In fact many speculated that only the Caps had the firepower to see them off in a seven-game series; Ovechkin and co's struggles against the Habs ended that talk.

Everyone expected Washington to get the deciding win in Wednesday's game 7, but they didn't. Everyone now thinks Pittsburgh's savvy and class will see them float towards a third straight Eastern Conference title - surely with their experience they won't fall short.

Whether they have enough at that point to see off Chicago, San Jose or perhaps even Vancouver is questionable, however with Washington out of the picture the East looks pretty cut and dry, meaning Pittsburgh have to be value at 12/5 to pull off a sensational repeat.

I'm still dreaming of a Montreal - Vancouver Stanley Cup however my heart tells me it'll be the Penguins and Sharks battling it out for Lord Stanley's greatest work.


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