First-round breakdown: Sharks-Ducks

Updated: April 14, 2009, 7:02 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun |

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.

• Evgeni Nabokov vs. Jonas Hiller. When you look at Nabokov's career playoff numbers, they are impressive -- a 2.17 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 59 games. Who could argue with that? But it's the 30-27 win-loss record that matters most; like his team, he's only been better than average in that department. This is the season Nabby must be more of a difference if the Sharks want to finally go all the way. Hiller? Well, this is all new to him. He's yet to play in the NHL playoffs. He earned the right to start Game 1 after winning the starting job away from the inconsistent Giguere this season. Good news for Ducks coach Randy Carlyle is he's got a Cup-winner on the bench just in case Hiller has the jitters.

• San Jose: San Jose's power play finished third overall in the NHL at a sizzling 24.2-percent success rate. Devin Setoguchi had only one goal and one assist in his last seven regular-season games.

• Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf has been red-hot with 14 points (2-12) in his last eight games to wrap up the regular season. Anaheim's penalty kill ranked only 23rd in the NHL this season at 79.7 percent.

• No matter how you look at, this should be a long, hard-fought series. Two divisional rivals with big-time performers on both sides of the puck. But we announced in September that this was San Jose's year and we can't back out now. Sharks in seven.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer