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After long wait, Canucks ready for Sharks

by Dhiren Mahiban /
VANCOUVER B.C. – With the San Jose Sharks eliminating the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 on Thursday night, the Canucks spent a bulk of their media availability Friday afternoon sizing up their next opponent.

"You're kind of in no man's land a little bit there," goaltender Roberto Luongo said of not knowing their opponent until late Thursday night. "We can all get ready and start studying a little bit. We know what we need to do to beat these guys. It's an exciting time right now to be playing hockey."

The Canucks were 3-0-1 against the second-seeded Sharks during the regular season, including a pair of wins at HP Pavilion. Vancouver also finished 12 points ahead of San Jose during the regular season.

"I think we were able to, on a couple of occasions, get great goaltending performances that enabled us to win some of those games," coach Alain Vigneault said. "The games against them are the same -- they're a big, strong team that likes to go on the offense, they have highly-skilled players and it's going to be a good matchup."

This marks the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs. Though the Canucks have been in the League for 20 years longer than the Sharks, both teams are entering the conference finals for the third time in franchise history. Vancouver is 2-0, winning in 1982 and 1994. The Sharks have lost twice, including last year to Chicago.

Defenseman Kevin Bieksa expects quite a different series than what the Canucks just went through in the second round against the Nashville Predators.

"Just like Nashville was dramatically different than Chicago, Chicago was very offensive, deep in forwards – Nashville was probably the best defensive team in the League and I think you'll see the best of both worlds in San Jose," he said. "(They're) good defensively, well coached and good offensively.

"We expect the best out of our competition so far."

Vancouver hasn't been this far in the playoffs since 1994 when they last made it to the Stanley Cup Final only to fall in seven games to the New York Rangers.

This year marks the second consecutive year San Jose has made it to the conference finals, they reached the final four in the spring of 2004 before losing to the Calgary Flames. The Sharks have never played in a Stanley Cup Final.

According to Bieksa, the Sharks are the most offensively gifted team the Canucks have faced in these playoffs.

"I think so, obviously they have a couple guys on the blue line," he said. "Their forwards are extremely deep, they're all big strong guys, who can move the puck and skate so it will be a great challenge for us."

San Jose comes to Vancouver in a position the Canucks are all too familiar with; the Sharks, like the Canucks, blew a 3-0 lead only to win on home ice in Game 7.

"It's the exact same situation without the overtime dramatics," Luongo said. "It's not an easy position to be in, but it's so much more gratifying once you do get through it and they showed a lot of character last night by winning that big game."

Added Daniel Sedin: "They were (in the conference finals) last year too, in the same position, so they know what it takes and they probably learned a few lessons last year. It'll be tough."
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