The Sharks are out for blood. For the past three years, the San Jose Sharks have been Stanley Cup favorites at the beginning of each season, only to flounder pathetically in the second round of the playoffs. As a person whose blood runs black and teal, I would tearfully tuck away my old-school black Sharks jersey each May with the nauseating feeling that the Cup been there for the taking and San Jose had just failed to grasp it.
It is no secret that San Jose is an elite hockey club. This fact has been an unquestionable truth since Joe Thornton was traded to the Sharks from the Bruins in the 2005-2006 season.
However, hockey’s Holy Grail has continuously remained unattainable for the powerful Sharks. Tonight’s playoff game against the rival Ducks of Anaheim is the first step in a long road to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.
This one-eight match up promises to be a hard-hitting, bitter, exciting series, not only for the hockey fans in California but for the entire league. While on paper the Sharks should easily defeat the Ducks, this series will prove to be a much closer match up than anyone could have expected.
Goaltending: To be fair, this advantage does not necessarily come from the Sharks stellar goaltender, but rather from the fact that Anaheim fails to have a consistent goaltender. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup back in 2007, has played in 46 games this season, the same number as the number two goalie, Jonas Hiller. He has never played in a playoff game before, but is likely to get the nod tonight against the Sharks at HP Pavilion, as he has been on a tear as of late.
Evgeni Nabokov did not play up to his Vezina-nominee standards this season, but is still considered to be a top goaltender in the league. Brian Boucher, an acquirement from the 2008 trade deadline day, has stepped in when needed and has performed brilliantly in most of the games he has played in.
The advantage goes to the Sharks as both of their goalies have playoff experience and better records than the Anaheim goalies.
Secondary Scoring: The Sharks primary line consisting of Devin Setoguchi, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau has been dynamic throughout this season. However, in hockey’s second season, Thornton has failed to compete at the same high level. This year he has promised to take each period at a time to silence his critics once and for all.
Even if that were to fail, it is doubtful the Sharks will have any difficulty scoring, as their secondary scoring is second to none in the league. With Joe Pavelski centering the second line with Ryane Clowe and Milan Michalek, the Sharks second line could easily be a primary line on many teams in the league.
In addition to the second line, the Sharks also have dangerous forwards such as Jonathan Cheechoo and Jeremy Roenick on the third line. There is also the slight possibility that injured forward Torrey Mitchell will play for the first time this season after breaking his leg the second day of training camp.
For only the fourth time in league history, the Sharks have four defensemen with 30 or more assists. The four defensemen, Dan Boyle, Christian Erhoff, Rob Blake, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, have been one of the reasons the Sharks have been so dominant this season. Nearly everyone on the Sharks roster can score.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have a very dominant first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry that is likely to match up against the Sharks' first line, but have nearly no one who could match the Sharks' depth talent-wise. Anaheim’s defense is one of the most dominant in the league and could unleash some damage on the Sharks, but the Ducks will be unable to compete line in and line out with them throughout the series.
Home Ice: This season the Sharks have been dominant at home, losing only five regulation games this entire season. It is difficult to argue that the Sharks are anything less than elite whether at San Jose or on the road, but the Sharks record at home speaks volumes as to how far the team has come in this past year.
They have shut down nearly every opponent and have found ways to come from behind and win. I can personally attest to the sheer force of the crowd at the HP Pavilion; it seems to propel the Sharks past nearly every rival.
Special Teams: In a head-to-head special teams match up, the Sharks are certainly more dominant. While the Sharks and Ducks are third and fourth in the power play this season, it is the Sharks' controlled and disciplined play that gives them the advantage.
They have a recent streak of eleven games with at least one power play goal in a game, a franchise record. Their power play is one of the best in the league at 24.2%. The Ducks penalty kill, on the other hand, ranked 23rd overall with a dismal 79.7% kill. They are also one of the most penalized teams and are known to take reckless penalties.
Ducks Defense: Possibly the most-hated man at the Shark Tank, Chris Pronger, is sure to make a huge impact in the series. The 6'5" defenseman has been the bane of the Sharks and their fans' existence. The perpetual boos that follow him on the ice come after years of playoff dominance over the Sharks defensemen.
With the addition of James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney at the trade deadline and the captain of the team, Scott Niedermayer, returning for yet another season this year, the Ducks defense is stacked and the Sharks will need to find a way to shut it down in order for them to win the series.
Number Eight Seed: Ah, to be the number eight seed with no expectations... However, this season the number eight seed is a little misleading. Nearly every playoff team in the Western Conference could beat an Eastern Conference team, and the eighth-seeded Ducks are no exception.
Unlike the Sharks, they have only a microscopic level of pressure on them from the media and the fans and they have nothing to lose. Very few believed they would make the playoffs going into the trade deadline, but they have been on a roll as of late. Their huge physical presence on the ice fuels the rivalry between the two teams, and this series is promising to be one of the closest eight-one match ups in the history of the National Hockey League.
What this series comes down to is the drive to win and the ability to come out of the series alive. This is supposedly the Sharks’ year, but their most difficult task is winning this series. My prediction is the Sharks in six but with a rivalry such as this, it is nearly impossible to determine who will come out of this series.