When teams face off in the playoffs, a rivalry sometimes forms as a biproduct of the intense emotions that come with seeing the same opponent for multiple games in a row and with a chance for a championship on the line.
Tonight's game between the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks will be the first time the clubs have met since Game 7 of their second-round series in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the sentiments that existed last May still exist.
San Jose took the series with a 3-2 win in the decisive contest of the set after Colorado forced a seventh games with a 4-3 overtime victory at Pepsi Center in Game 6.
"Anytime I think you play someone in the playoffs, it carries over," said veteran defenseman Erik Johnson. "I mean still [with the] Minnesota [Wild], almost six years later there is still animosity there even though there is only a handful of guys from each team still on the squads now. The fans enjoy the rivalry I think, and it makes for high intensity games and fun games to be a part of."
The Sharks are one of two Western Conference teams who have yet to face the Avs in 2019-20 (Los Angeles is the other). So far this year, San Jose has gone 21-23-4 and 6-7-2 since it made a coaching change on Dec. 11.
Colorado is 25-15-6 so far this campaign and has opened its five-game homestand with back-to-back overtime losses.
Video: Coach Jared Bednar before Avs vs. Sharks
"I think we are excited, it is a great opportunity for us," said Avs head coach Jared Bednar. "I think trying to get back on track and building on what we did last game or last couple games and being able to play at home and then to do it against a team like San Jose that put us out in the playoffs last year I think will be great. Guys are excited.
"We know them pretty well even though it's been a while since we've played them, not a lot has changed for them in their structural play. I think both teams will look at it and see a lot of similarities to last year's playoffs."
Last year's postseason matchup marked the first time that Colorado had advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2008. The final contest of the series was the 11th time the Avs played in a Game 7 since relocating and the second time the Avalanche and Sharks faced off in one (also the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals).
Video: Tyson Jost talks about facing the Sharks
"I think we learned a lot from it. We got some really valuable playoff experience going to a Game 7," said Tyson Jost. "I mean a handful of our guys never were in a Game 7 or played in a tight playoff series like that. I mean it was exciting, we learned a lot about our team, and obviously we added some new pieces this year too. It was an awesome experience. It's great, you always dream about playing in a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
The clubs meet in San Jose on March 8 before wrapping up this year's three-game set at Pepsi Center on March 17.
COMPHER TO HIT 200
J.T. Compher is set to play in his 200th career NHL game this evening. Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round (35th overall) in 2013, Colorado acquired the forward on June 26, 2015. He spent three years at the University of Michigan before he turned pro in 2016-17.
Through his tenure in the NHL, the Northbrook, Illinois, native has registered 83 points (39 goals, 44 assists), all with the Avs. He also has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 18 postseason contests. When the Sharks and Avs last met at Pepsi Center, Game 6 of the 2019 second-round matchup, Compher helped force a seventh game by factoring on three goals (two goals, one assist) in Colorado's 4-3 overtime win.
"Me and J.T., obviously we were roommates for the first two years, and he is a great guy," said Tyson Jost. "He is one of my best friends on the team and that's pretty cool, 200 games, that's a special milestone. He is really good as a player too. He is a great 200-foot player, he is responsible on both ends of the rink and he brings that offensive touch too. He is someone you can kind of trust in any area of the game, and I'm excited for him."
Tonight, Compher will be on a new line combination for head coach Jared Bednar, skating alongside Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert.
"I like the speed he brings to that line too. I think he has had some good jump in his game here lately," said Bednar. "We had him up in the lineup a little bit, he got rewarded, worked hard and scored some goals. Obviously scoring goals right now isn't coming easy to us, so just trying to get a little bit more out of a couple of those lines."
Joonas Donskoi, who spent his first four NHL seasons with San Jose (2015-2019) prior to signing with Colorado this past offseason as a free agent, will have to wait to play his former club.
Donskoi will miss his third consecutive game tonight after he took high hit on Jan. 7 at the New York Rangers. He has been in concussion protocol since then but is making progress.
After Thursday's optional morning skate, head coach Jared Bednar noted that Donskoi could return as soon as Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.
"We were hoping he was going to be ready to play tonight, that didn't work out for us, but he skated again this morning, that's four days in a row," said Bednar. "Just waiting for him to get cleared here and take some contact in a full practice and then hopefully we can get him in a game."
The forward has 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) through 44 games this season, and his 14 tallies have already tied his career high that he set in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The Avs are tied for second in the NHL in goals (164) and tied for third in goals per game (3.57). Colorado has scored a league-high 54 goals in the first period.
Nathan MacKinnon ranks third in league scoring with 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 46 games, two shy of becoming the third NHL player to reach 70 this season (Connor McDavid 74, Leon Draisaitl 73). If he reaches the mark tonight, MacKinnon would equal the record for the fastest Avalanche player to reach 70 points since the team relocated to Denver. Mikko Rantanen hit the 70-point mark in his 47th contest last year.
MacKinnon sits three goals shy of reaching the 30-goal mark for the third straight season (39 in 2017-18, 41 in 2018-19). He would join Joe Sakic (2003-04 to 2006-07) as the only Colorado players since the Avalanche relocated to Denver to post three consecutive 30-goal campaigns.
Matt Calvert needs two points for 200 in his career and Andre Burakovsky needs two assists for 100 in his career.