Keys to a Sharks-Hawks Western final

The Blackhawks' offensive depth and defensive domination may be too much for the Sharks. Gerry Thomas/NHLI/Getty Images

There is nothing more satisfying for hockey fans than a heavyweight playoff matchup, where the two best teams meet and the outcome feels like the crowning of a true champion. We got a taste of this last season, when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings met in the Stanley Cup final and gave us a series for the ages. Right now, the two best teams in the Western Conference project to be the San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Witness, as statement wins, the Hawks' 7-1 embarrassment of the Calgary Flames on Nov. 19, or their league-record five-goal comeback against those same Flames a month earlier.

The Hawks are a combined 7-0 against the Flames, Avalanche, Penguins and Sharks so far this year. The Sharks, for their part, are No. 1 in the conference standings for a second season in a row. With apologies to the surprising Kings, it would be immensely satisfying if the Sharks and Blackhawks were to meet in the Western Conference final. How would such a series play out? Who would win?

To figure this out, I assumed that the current rosters would be the ones present in the playoffs, with each team playing at full strength (i.e. no injuries). Since neither of these teams has any glaring weaknesses and both are tight on cap space, it's unlikely that either one will make any significant moves between now and March. I then simulated the matchup 5,000 times to see which team came out on top. I also did the same thing for the Eastern Conference.

The result in the West was about as tight as it can get: The Blackhawks won 53 percent of the time.

The keys to the matchup: