Expect a gunfight in Western final

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

 The Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche were supposed to kick off the NHL's Western Conference final today at the Joe Louis Arena.

 At least that's what many hockey prognosticators predicted.

  But the two so-called Best in the West were anything but that, dropping their Western Conference semi-final series to the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks respectively.

 Six games were all that was needed for the Flames to oust the Wings and for the Sharks to dispose of the Avs, setting up an improbable series between Calgary and San Jose which gets underway today at the Shark Tank.

 "Full marks for both those teams in getting to this point," said Paul Maurice, The Toronto Sun's NHL playoff analyst. "It is no fluke that these teams are here.

 "They earned their way through hard work and competitive spirit.

 "Both teams play an up-tempo game that stresses puck pursuit. Both put passion ahead of systems. And each team plays with a lot of heart.

 "It should make for very entertaining hockey."

 Here is Maurice's breakdown of the series.

 FORWARDS

 "In many ways, these teams are mirror images of each other up front. Both have young budding superstars in Patrick Marleau and Jarome Iginla. Both of those players get offensive support from the likes of Jonathan Cheechoo and Martin Gelinas. And both have lots of physical grinders who are very difficult to play against. Most importantly, both want to play an aggressive style, so expect a two-man forecheck from either team."

 EDGE: Even.

 DEFENCE

 "Once again, these teams have similar philosophies. They each encourage their guys on the back end to jump up and close the gaps, especially in the neutral zone. Guys such as the Flames' Robyn Regehr and Kyle McLaren of the Sharks lead two physical defence corps. But the Flames are a bit banged up on the blue line, which could be a factor once all is said and done."

 EDGE: Sharks.

 GOAL

 "Both the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov and the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff have been the difference for their respective teams in previous series. Some would suggest they stole series, which wouldn't be out of reason to say. Kiprusoff maybe has been slightly more important to his team than Nabokov has, but that's debatable. Remember that as a former Shark, Kiprusoff faced these same San Jose players in practice. They may know where his weaknesses are but, at the same time, he knows the tendencies of those shooters. Slight advantage to Kiprusoff."

 EDGE: Flames.

 COACHING

 "Which coach gets more from his team? Based on what we've seen so far in the post-season, both Ron Wilson and Darryl Sutter have done excellent jobs in that regard. When it gets to this point, I always think coaching is pretty even ... well, unless its a matchup between Scotty Bowman and Paul Maurice. Scotty gets the nod there, don't you think?"

 EDGE: Even.

 INTANGIBLES

 "At some point, when you've come from where Calgary has come from, gone through the injuries they have, won as many dramatic overtime games as they have, you start believing you can't be defeated. I think that might be the case with the Flames right now."

 EDGE: Flames.

 THE SKINNY

 "Many are calling for a low-scoring series and that might not be too far off the mark. But that doesn't mean the play will be boring. Far from it. I think the aggressive styles of both these teams is very conducive to some very exciting hockey, featuring a bunch of close games. I'm taking Calgary in a series that goes the distance even though my gut says San Jose in five.

 PAUL'S PICK

 Flames in 7.


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