For the ninth consecutive season the San Jose Sharks have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they'll face the Vancouver Canucks starting Wednesday night at Rogers Arena. The two perennial Cup contenders have not met in the playoffs often, in fact just once previously in the 2011 Western Conference Final, a series that remains fresh in the Sharks memories.
Eager for redemption
No one needs to remind the Sharks of their five game defeat at the hands of the Canucks in 2011 Western Conference Final. Many Sharks players still have a rotten taste in their mouths, especially given the way they were defeated, when the puck took a crazy bounce off the stanchion directly to Kevin Bieksa for the game winning goal in double overtime.
"We lost two years ago and remembering those games, they were a little lucky, they got a few lucky goals. Hopefully we’ll get a few bounces this time," said Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who lead the NHL in wins with 24.
Niemi struggled through the 2011 series, surrendering three or more goals in all five games, but was stellar against the Northwest Division champions this season, posting a 3-0-0 record allowing 5 goals with 1.62 GAA a .943 save percentage.
The Finnish goaltender is one of several Sharks with a Stanley Cup ring and has been the team's best player most nights, said captain Joe Thornton.
"He's been great. He's the reason we are in the postseason, when you get a great goaltender like that you can ride him a long time I think."
New look line-up
The San Jose lineup will be quite different than the group that swept the Canucks (3-0-0) in their season series as Sharks General Manager, Doug Wilson, made several moves at the NHL's Trade Deadline. Aiming to improve his club's speed, he traded defenseman Douglas Murray, centre Michael Handzus and bruising winger Ryane Clowe, while adding former Canuck, Raffi Torres.
The Sharks practiced Monday in San Jose with TJ Galiardi on the top line, alongside Joe Thornton and defenseman-turned-winger Brent Burns. The unit combined for 26 points in the last month of the season.
By moving Burns and Galiardi to the first line, coach Todd McLellan has sent Patrick Marleau to the second line with the team's leading goal-scorer Logan Couture, and Martin Havlat. Joe Pavelski will centre the third line with Raffi Torres and Tommy Wingels, while a fourth line featuring Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish on the wings, and centered by Scott Gomez skated together at practice.
On the backend, the Sharks defensive pairings have remained mostly unchanged with mainstay, Dan Boyle, expected to log heavy minutes. Boyle has been paired with British Columbia native Matt Irwin for much of the season so expect that unit to remain together.
Veteran blueliners Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic take the reins on the other two pairings. Vlasic was skating with Justin Braun on Monday, while Stuart's partner could be either veteran Scott Hannan or rookie Matt Tennyson, McLellan told reporters Monday.
“We have Tennyson, who we think is a puck-mover and we have Scotty Hannan who has a lot of experience and he’s a heavy, physical D-man. We have options there for Game one and maybe by Game two we have two puck-movers and one heavier guy if JD is ready to go. We’ll make some decisions over the next day or two and go from there.”
Jason Demers will not be available for Wednesday's Game 1, as the defenseman continues recovering from a lower-body injury.