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Canucks try to get leg up opening at home vs. Sharks

by Kevin Woodley
SHARKS (25-16-7) at CANUCKS (26-15-7)


Last 10:
San Jose 5-5-0; Vancouver 5-4-1

Season series: The San Jose Sharks swept the three-game series, starting at home with a 4-1 thumping of the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 27 that was part of seven straight wins to open the season. The next two were closer, with San Jose winning 3-2 in a shootout in Vancouver on March 5 and 3-2 in regulation at home on April 1.

Big story: These two teams met in the Western Conference Finals two years ago, and the series was much closer than Vancouver's five-game victory would indicate. The Canucks won Game 4 by scoring a postseason record three 5-on-3 goals, then clinched the series on a double overtime goal no one saw, converting a strange bounce off a stanchion in the glass that fooled everyone. Several San Jose players have talked since about being the better team and thinking they should have won that series. Now they get a chance to prove it.

Team Scope:

Just as the Canucks didn't have Kesler when they played San Jose this season, the Sharks are also a different team since sweeping the series, actually improving after trading away key players like defenseman Douglas Murray and power forward Ryane Clowe before the NHL Trade Deadline. They are faster and deeper since then, spreading the offense over four lines by splitting up Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, moving defenseman Brent Burns up front as a top-line power forward, and dropping Joe Pavelski back to center a third line.

The newfound depth was enough to have the Canucks switching up their own lines in practice leading into the series, spreading out their top centers over three lines rather than using both Ryan Kesler and trade-deadline addition Derek Roy on a loaded second line. Whether the lines stay that way remains to be seen, but it's clear these aren't the same teams that met in the regular season.

Canucks: Outside of whether Cory Schneider will be healthy enough to play goal, the biggest question facing the Canucks is whether their power play can keep rolling in the playoffs. It was crucial to beating the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals two years ago, and a big part of losing all three games to them this regular season, going 0-for-12 and giving up a shorthanded goal in the first two games before not even getting a chance in the third meeting.

The last two meetings were part of a decade-worst slump that included just two power-play goals in 20 games as Vancouver fell to the bottom of the NHL rankings. The Canucks have been better of late, however, scoring 10 times with the man advantage in the final 12 games while converting 25 percent of their opportunities -- almost double their success rate before that streak.

Having Kesler, who was out with injury for all three games against the Sharks, back as a shoot-first, right-shot option opposite the pass-first Sedin twins has made a big difference, and the Canucks need it to continue in this series.

Who's hot: For the Canucks, there aren't a lot of individual scoring streaks after dropping the final two games of the regular season, but Schneider had won eight straight at home before missing the final two games with a minor injury, which is key given the importance of keeping home-ice advantage against a Sharks team that was 17-2-5 at HP Pavilion. … For the Sharks, Logan Couture has four goals and three assists in his past five games, part of a season-long scoring surge that has seen him emerge as a leader in San Jose.

Injury report: Sharks defenseman Jason Demers will miss at least the first game, but could return during the first round. Either veteran Scott Hannan, who has experience and grit, or rookie Matt Tennyson, who is less experienced but a better puck-moving option, will take Demers' place. ... Schneider remains a game-time decision, but is expected to play after missing two games and staying off the ice five days with a mystery injury. Defenseman Christopher Tanev (ankle) is still in a walking boot, but could return during the series. Center Manny Malhotra (eye) and left wing David Booth (ankle) are out for the season.
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