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Sharks Report: Facing a familiar foe

by Colin Hope / Vancouver Canucks

Facing a familiar foe

The San Jose Sharks may not have expected it, but they are facing the same goaltender in Roberto Luongo that eliminated them from the 2011 Playoffs. Luongo has yet to face the Sharks this season as Cory Schneider started all three matchups, but the Canucks winningest goaltender in franchise history has been stellar against the Sharks at home during his Vancouver career with a 6-0-2 record.

The last minute change in the Canucks net won’t be changing the Sharks’ game-plan says Coach Todd McLellan.

“They’ve been together for a number of years here in the organization, both played big games. I can tell you that the fact there has been a lot of debate over which goaltender is going to start here in Vancouver, it’s a much bigger story here than it is in the Sharks locker room.”

“We are going to have to beat a very good goaltender either way,” said McLellan.

One Shark with a long history against Luongo, Joe Thornton, agrees with his coach that no matter who is in net at the other end of the rink, it’s a matter of making life difficult for Luongo.

“Luo’s a world-class goalie and so is Cory. Either one we go against is going to be a challenge. We are going to need a lot of shots, a lot of traffic and hope one squeaks by,” said Thornton after the team’s morning skate.

Judging from the morning skate, it looks like Thornton will be centering the Sharks top line with T.J. Galiardi on the left wing and defenseman-turned-winger, Brent Burns on the other side.

Logan Couture, the Sharks leading goal scorer will centre the second unit with Martin Havlat and Patrick Marleau.

The third line features former Canuck Raffi Torres, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. Scott Gomez will not dress on the fourth unit, replacing the two-time Stanley Cup winner will be James Sheppard. He will skate with Andrew Desjardins and longtime thorn in the Canucks side, Adam Burish.

Looking for redemption?

The Sharks and Canucks have only matched-up once previously in the playoffs, a five game series won by Vancouver in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. The Sharks return with 10 players from that series, including Patrick Marleau, who led all Sharks scorers with four tallies in 2011.

“As far as redemption, some things carry over. There are some of the same players but there are a lot of different players as well. We don’t like losing that’s for sure.”

Thornton also said that what happened in 2011 is well behind his club.

“It’s a new series. Game One you’d like to grab and get off to a good start. This is two good teams that have been familiar with each other in the past, so I assume this is going to be a good series.”

Coming home defenseman

Matt Irwin, the 25 year-old Brentwood Bay, B.C., native, will be making his NHL Playoff debut against the team he grew up watching and knows he has family and friends who may be changing their allegiances.

“I’m familiar with this organization and I’m excited to play against them. Friends and family back home are all Canucks fans but I think my close friends and family are all rooting for me now,” said the rookie blueliner.

Irwin has had a strong rookie campaign, something his coach attributes to his maturity he’s gained while rising up the ranks from college to the NHL.

“He is a mature rookie, if you will,” said McLellan. “He’s had college experience, good minor pro experience and now he’s been able to step in and be a steady influence for us on the blueline.”

Irwin forms the top defensive unit for the Sharks alongside veteran Dan Boyle. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun for the second pairing while Brad Stuart, who leads all players in the series with 124 career playoffs games, will skate with either rookie Matt Tennyson or veteran Scott Hannan.

McLellan said the decision on who will be Stuart’s partner will be determined following warm-up tonight.

Antti Niemi, who has started 25 of the Sharks previous 26 games will protect the crease for the Sharks.

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