Former Sharks informing Blues
It's the playoffs, use any edge you can find, right?
The two former Sharks players were more than happy to oblige.
"We went over personnel, for sure," Nichol told ESPN.com. "We had two years there where we went pretty far. We're pretty familiar at least with the top two lines. We talked about how they rise to the occasion when they need to. So this should be a good series."
"There are different guys there now but the core group is the same," added Huskins. "Scotty and I can give a little insight as to tendencies and that kind of thing."
And it wasn't just about X's and O's.
"Another thing players help you with is who goes up and who goes down on another team," said Hitchcock. "That's where ex-players help you. Especially with those guys because they've been through it right to the end with those guys. They knew who went up and who went down. I think that was very enlightening for our players. Because it was like, 'Whoa, didn't know about that guy.' So that was enlightening. Because there's a reason they went all the way to the end last year to the conference finals. It was surprising for our players to listen to them and find out who stepped up for them."
Hitchcock said it's something he's done several times in his previous NHL stops, not to mention the Olympics, where NHL teammates become rivals.
Both Nichol and Huskins spent the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons in San Jose, going to back-to-back conference finals with the Sharks. There won't be many secrets in this series.
"They have six or seven Olympians on that team," said Nichol. "They bring it every year. They got in a different way this year, we're well aware of it. They've played playoff hockey probably the last three weeks. They're dialed right up. We realized that."
Hitchcock, however, made sure the Sharks tutorial from professors Nichol and Huskins had a time limit. After a while, the Blues coach gets squeamish about that stuff.
"One of the things you get into when you talk to players about their former teams, I'm uncomfortable with the 'we' talk," said Hitchcock. "They're not far removed from that team so there was a lot of 'we' in there. You have to be careful. You want to get your information and move on."
Fact is, the Blues know pretty much what they're getting in the Sharks, a battled-tested team when it comes to playoff hockey, an experienced squad that has played 16 playoff series from 2003-04 through last season, second only over that span to Detroit's 18 playoff series.
What the Blues don't know for sure at this point is about themselves when it comes to playoff hockey. And that's the more intriguing subplot early in this series.
Sure, they've got lots of playoff experience in guys like Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, but those vets aren't the engine on this team. No, this is a club that wins or loses depending on the core players led by David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald.
McDonald, for one, has playoff experience and a Cup ring from his Anaheim days. But the other young players on this team are fairly green when it comes to playoff experience.
"Our biggest evaluation is going to be, who's overwhelmed by the stage and who's not," said Hitchcock. "So we'll get a read after a couple of games on that."
The Blues waxed the Sharks in the regular season, winning all four games by a combined 11-3 score. On the other hand, that was the inconsistent and unfocused Sharks team of the regular season, not the one that woke up 10 days ago and swept four games against Dallas and Los Angeles to get into the playoffs.
"The one thing we have going for us is that we feel confident off the four games we played [vs. the Sharks] that if we play a certain way, we can beat them," said Hitchcock. "But if they play the way they did against Dallas and L.A., they're going to be friggin' tough, boy."
Drop the puck, boys. This should be a heck of a series.
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