You can bet the Detroit Red Wings were cheering like crazy late Monday night for the Dallas Stars to complete their comeback against the Vancouver Canucks. But it didn't happen. The Stars fell 4-1 to set up what is the most interesting of the second-round matchups, this clash between San Jose and Detroit.
Both teams are deep and talented and blessed with world-class stars, including Joe Thornton, Bill Guerin, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Dominik Hasek. The Sharks ate the Red Wings' lunch during the regular season, but that means squat now.
Both teams have some playoff baggage to shed. The Wings believe they've already shed theirs by defeating the Calgary Flames, while the Sharks believe they're destined for bigger things this spring. However it shakes down, this one has the makings of a classic.
1. Will Wings stay physical? Guess the Red Wings aren't the patsies their recent playoff history has shown them to be. By dispatching the Calgary Flames in six games, it's not a stretch to suggest the Red Wings won the physical battle, which was so crucial to winning the series. The mindless play of the Flames at the end of Game 5 was a reflection of their frustration at being beaten at their own game. Earlier this season, an NHL coach said he thought the Red Wings' chances were limited by the fact opposing teams were going to rough them up. But watching ageless (or is that aged?) Chris Chelios mix it up for more than 16 minutes a night, and the rest of the squad's competitive play, should put an end to that talk.
2. O captain, my captain. A season ago, San Jose captain Patrick Marleau blazed through the first round with seven goals against Nashville. This campaign, his totals are more modest, but his importance is no less dramatic. The Sharks won three of their four games over Nashville by one goal, one in double overtime, and the other by a 3-1 count. Marleau tied the deciding fifth game and then scored the winner to finish with three goals and three assists. His production provides the ultimate cushion for Joe Thornton and makes the Sharks that much more difficult to defend. Marleau gives the Red Wings a dimension they didn't face against a not-as-deep Calgary forward contingent. When Sharks coach Ron Wilson wanted to jumpstart his squad in Game 5, he formed the juggernaut line, moving Marleau alongside Thornton and Bill Guerin. Watch for that trio to make the odd appearance against the Red Wings.
3. The Todd Bertuzzi Factor, Part Deux. There were lots of questions about how Big Bert would fit into the Red Wings' lineup and locker room. While he missed the first two games of the series, Bertuzzi provided what the Wings hoped he would -- physical play with an added jolt of dangerous offensive play. He finished the first round with a goal and two assists while playing a surprising 16:56 a night. He started to exert himself in a Game 4 loss in Calgary, a performance which earned him third-star billing. In theory, Bertuzzi should only get better as the playoffs continue, a good thing for Red Wings fans. He will be expected to make life miserable for Sharks defensemen and netminder Evgeni Nabokov. If he can throw them off even a little, he'll give the Wings an edge they haven't had in recent playoff years.
4. The trade that pays. With a blue-line corps that boasts perennial Norris Trophy nominee in Lidstrom, Chelios and Mathieu Schneider, the Red Wings will boast a significant edge on defense -- at least on paper. But one of the most overlooked moves of the trade-deadline period was the Sharks' acquisition of veteran Craig Rivet from Montreal. Rivet has helped solidify a blue line that includes rookies Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Carle, and turned a possible playoff flaw into a playoff benefit. Rivet leads all Sharks players in average ice time (26:34) and has added two goals and three assists. A potential unrestricted free agent, Rivet has seen his market value climb and it will continue to soar if he maintains his current level of play.
5. Which Thornton will we see? We return again to the topic of Thornton -- is he a playoff hero in waiting or just an average Joe when the chips are on the table? A season ago, Thornton was in almost exactly the same situation. He had led the Sharks into the playoffs en route to his first scoring title and MVP crown. He had four assists as the Sharks upended Nashville in the first round before San Jose unraveled versus Edmonton, losing four straight after building a 2-0 series lead. Thornton is second in the NHL with six assists through the first round. Now, he'll be asked to carry the torch through a difficult second-round assignment. In the past, the knock on Thornton was, perhaps, he didn't have the fire in his belly to be the leader many expected the first overall pick to be. Wilson thinks Thornton has shown that fire more often in the last part of this season. Against a Red Wings team that can light it up offensively, Thornton can't afford to have any letdown.
• Thornton versus Chelios. Although Thornton and Lidstrom will spend a lot of time on the ice together, we're interested to see just how much of a dose Jumbo Joe gets of Chelios. Chelios was in the thick of things when things got nasty against Calgary, and you can bet he'll be trying to take Thornton off his game at every opportunity. If Thornton can give as good as he's getting, it'll help establish a needed precedent as this series moves along.
• Sharks: Milan Michalek benefited from playing with Thornton during the regular season to the tune of 26 goals. He has already added four more in the postseason. Both Steve Bernier and Jonathan Cheechoo should have been able to use the time off to get back to full strength and into a scoring groove. That wasn't the case versus Nashville. Cheechoo (knee) and Bernier (neck) were held goalless after combining for 52 regular-season goals. They'll need to chip in if the Sharks are to advance.
• Red Wings: Johan Franzen gets belly-whacked by Calgary backup netminder Jamie McLennan in Game 5 and then comes back to haunt the Flames with the series-clincher in double overtime the next night. Franzen has five points and is plus-seven in the postseason. Tomas Holmstrom, the best of the NHL's crease-creepers, has yet to score this spring and is day-to-day with an eye injury he suffered in Game 6.
This should be great fun, but, in the end, we like the overall depth of the Sharks (18 players recorded points in the first round) to carry the day. San Jose in seven.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.