|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2009||[Print without images]|
The NHL's first all-California playoff series in 40 years should be a doozy. Not since the Los Angeles Kings beat the Oakland Seals in seven games in the 1969 Western Conference quarterfinals have two California clubs met in the NHL playoffs.
You have to pity the Sharks. What do they get for having a franchise-record regular season and capturing the Presidents' Trophy as the league's No. 1 overall team? A meeting with a rival Ducks team that scorched the earth in the final month of the regular season, posting a 10-2-1 record, including a 5-2 win at San Jose on April 4. The Sharks returned the favor the next day with a 3-2 win at Anaheim, a game that ended with a mini-brawl that saw six minor penalties and five misconducts handed out.
Oh, yeah these two teams don't like each other.
This is a series that features two of the most successful post-lockout clubs. Over the past four seasons, they have five 100-point seasons and three Pacific Division titles between them. This season, San Jose took four of six games between the two clubs.
In the game within the game, this promises to be an intriguing battle as the Sharks try to get over the playoff hump by having to dispose a playoff-savvy Ducks team that still has the Cup rings shining from 2007. Maybe the Ducks should wear them in warm-ups before Game 1 to get the head games going?
1. The Sharks between the ears. Let's be honest, it's the elephant in the room with everyone in hockey. This team has been knocking at the door for five seasons, but has one conference finals appearance to show for it. Mind you, we should point out they did it with one of the league's smaller payrolls until this season. This year, Sharks GM Doug Wilson was allowed to add some coin and, more important, some Cup experience. He added defensemen Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Brad Lukowich and coach Todd McLellan last summer, winger Claude Lemieux at midseason and forward Travis Moen and defenseman Kent Huskins at the trade deadline.
The common thread between all seven men? They arrived in San Jose with Cup rings. That kind of experience will be key when the going gets tough this spring, especially if there's an early hiccup in this first-round series.
2. Been there, done that. The Ducks aren't exactly the same team that won the Stanley Cup just two seasons ago, but you could argue the most important players remain: Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Rob Niedermayer and (now backup) Jean-Sebastien Giguere. This is a veteran group that won't wilt under playoff pressure.
3. The Sharks' health. At one point in March, San Jose was playing with nine AHL call ups. As the regular season wound down, most of the regulars returned, including Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau. Winger Torrey Mitchell (leg) and defenseman Huskins (foot) are both skating, but are TBD for the first round. Jonathan Cheechoo (lower body) missed the last two games of the regular season, but should be ready for Game 1. The Sharks begin the playoffs with as close to their full lineup as they've had probably since midseason. Will there be any rust?
4. Sharks hot at home/Ducks roar on the road. San Jose was an NHL-best 32-5-4 at home this season, a dominant force at HP Pavilion, where it is guaranteed to play most of its games for the entire playoffs. But the Ducks went 7-0-2 in their last nine road games and overall have the second-best road record (22-15-4) in the Western Conference.
5. Travis Moen. The gritty checker was a key member of Anaheim's 2007 Cup roster, but got shipped to San Jose along with Huskins at the March 4 trade deadline because Ducks GM Bob Murray had to get some assets for some of his expiring contracts (not to mention the fact Anaheim didn't look playoff-bound at the time). Now, Moen has to unleash his aggressive play on his former buddies.