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First-round breakdown: Predators vs. Sharks

Here's a little déjà vu for you. These two teams hooked up in the first round a season ago in exactly the same position.

The retooled Predators have a healthy Tomas Vokoun, something they missed last spring, but the Sharks are likewise stronger. This should be a dandy with both teams believing they've got the Stanley Cup goods.

There is considerable pressure on Nashville. GM David Poile paid a heavy price in terms of prospects and draft picks to acquire center Peter Forsberg, and the team is struggling to cement its relationship with fans and corporate sponsors. A short playoff run might signal the beginning of the end for the franchise in Nashville.

1. Goaltending conundrum. Vokoun has been OK, but not great, since returning from a thumb injury that kept him out of the lineup for 1½ months. OK won't cut it against the Sharks. It will be interesting to see what kind of leash coach Barry Trotz gives Vokoun before turning to super-backup Chris Mason, whose .925 save percentage was second in the NHL.

2. Goaltending conundrum, Part II. Following a theme, former rookie of the year Evgeni Nabokov has re-established himself as an elite netminder (he was 25-16-4 with seven shutouts), but coach Ron Wilson won't be shy to go to Vesa Toskala, who lost his starting role after suffering a groin injury. It was Toskala who was the main man last playoff season with Nabokov watching from the bench.

3. Penalties, penalties. The Sharks hit the playoffs tied with Anaheim with the most potent power play in the conference, second in the league behind Montreal. If the Predators -- who like to employ a physical forecheck with guys like Forsberg, Jordin Tootoo, Scott Nichol, Jason Arnott, et al -- cannot stay out of the box, this series could be over in a hurry. Similarly, the Sharks are by far the most successful team when scoring first. That means a quick start for the Predators is imperative if they want to stay close.

4. The Forsberg factor. He missed time immediately after being acquired by Nashville in mid-February, but Forsberg has been a regular member of the Preds lineup and looks to start the playoffs playing with rookie Alexander Radulov and Paul Kariya. He remains one of the all-time great playoff performers, with 162 points in 139 career playoff games. If he gets on a roll, he's the kind of player who can turn a series around.

5. Both teams rely to a surprising extent on youthful defenders. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Greg Zanon will shoulder a tremendous burden for the Predators, and rookies Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic quickly have become go-to guys for Ron Wilson along the Sharks' blue line. With two talented, opportunistic teams squaring off, youthful mistakes will be costly.

Joe Thornton vs. David Legwand. Sharks center Thornton has returned from early-season injuries to become one of the league's most dominant forwards, finishing just six points behind NHL scoring champ Sidney Crosby. If he's given time and space, he will find an open man. It will be up to the Predators to make sure Thornton has precious little time to work. Although Trotz will employ different looks for Thornton, watch for shutdown pivot Legwand to try his hand at keeping Jumbo Joe off the score sheet. The outcome of this battle may well determine the outcome of the series.

Sharks: Jonathan Cheechoo is back on the scoring track with 15 goals in his past 16 games. San Jose captain Patrick Marleau, on the other hand, has scored in just two of the past 21 games for the Sharks.

Predators: The Preds are 19-1-0 this season when Kariya scores. Steve Sullivan, battling chronic back woes, hasn't played since Feb. 22, and his availability for the playoffs remains unknown.

This playoff season is crucial to the Predators' long-term viability in Nashville. Unfortunately for Nashville fans, their playoff run promises to be dramatic but short. San Jose in seven.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.