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Championship players put Sharks on Cup path

Monday, 02.09.2009 / 6:23 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON -- Doug Wilson's summer philosophy was pretty simple and straightforward. Winners breed winning, so if you add as many as you can some of that success is bound to rub off on the players already under contract.

So, the San Jose Sharks GM reshaped his defense by circling up Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich, all three Stanley Cup winners. He re-tooled the coaching staff by reeling in Todd McLellan straight from the Detroit Red Wings' victory parade.

McLellan had never been an NHL head coach before, but he was Mike Babcock's assistant for the past three seasons.

Voila.

The Sharks have led the Western Conference since the opening faceoff.

"It's been unbelievable," defenseman Christian Ehrhoff told NHL.com Monday as the Sharks prepared for Tuesday's showdown on Versus (7 p.m.) against the NHL-leading Boston Bruins, a matchup that is being called a possible preview of the Stanley Cup Final.

Hard to argue with that thinking on the Western front, considering the Sharks are 36-7-7 and atop the conference standings.

Then again, it's hardly news that the Sharks are among the NHL's elite. They have been one of the League's top regular-season teams since the work stoppage, but their regular-season success has not carried to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This year feels different, wing Ryan Clowe told NHL.com, and it has everything to do with the confidence they've gained from bringing in four Stanley Cup winners.

The Sharks might not know what is lurking around the corner in a playoff series, but there's a good chance they've seen it before.

"I think it helps in certain situations as a series goes on," Blake told NHL.com. "You might be in the first round and find yourself in a Game 6; well that's not a big deal. You have to win the game to get out of a round. When you have guys that have done that before, been in those situations, it's a little easier. You come to the rink and think, 'Let's just win tonight and we'll be fine.' "

McLellan has challenged the Sharks to become a puck-possession team in the mold of the Red Wings. They've answered with 172 goals for in comparison to just 119 goals against, the best differential in the Western Conference.

Boyle has 39 points and Blake has 31. Together they have helped the Sharks power play succeed 23.2-percent of the time, a bump of 4.5 percent from last season. Lukowich, who is hurt now, is a plus-8 and has been a solid role player on the back end of the top six.

"They have all won," captain Patrick Marleau told NHL.com. "There is that sense in the game when things start getting out of hand, or what not, we have them to just settle everything down."

The Sharks wouldn't be winning without the veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who has 26 of their 36 victories and a .910 save percentage.

Mike Grier and Jonathan Cheechoo bring experience to the third line with Marcel Goc.

Claude Lemieux was signed out of retirement to give the team some more grit in a fourth-line role. Even Jeremy Roenick is still kicking around, though he hasn't played since Dec. 11 because of a shoulder injury.

However, it's the four Cup winners -- McLellan, Boyle, Blake and Lukowich -- who have given the Sharks something they lacked last season. It's that confidence that, yes, a great regular season can translate into a great postseason.

"Those are the guys that I grew up watching," high-scoring 22-year-old wing Devin Setoguchi told NHL.com. "They know what to do and we're going to listen to them."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com




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