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Pacific: Sharks, Ducks on potential collision course

by Doug Ward

The Sharks and Ducks appear to be on a collision course to face each other in the playoffs. WATCH: Sharks-Ducks highlights
While the San Jose Sharks were establishing a franchise record by winning their ninth consecutive game in Minnesota on Sunday night, the Ducks were in Anaheim, extending their home winning streak to a franchise record seven games.

The two California teams are both surging and their destiny might be one another. If the season ended today, San Jose and Anaheim would square off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It would be the first postseason meeting between two teams from California since the Kings met the Oakland Seals back in 1969.

That series was a matchup of bottom feeders. The Kings had posted a 24-42-10 regular season record (58 points), while the Seals went 29-36-11 (69 points) in what was then a 12-team league. The South prevailed in that series, with the Kings winning in seven games.

If there is to be a North-South playoff showdown in California this spring, the series will feature two of the League's elite teams and will no doubt be contested at a much higher level. San Jose's 88 points place the Sharks third overall in the NHL, while defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim's 85 points tie them for fifth overall. Both teams are among the NHL's toughest defensively, with the Ducks ranking third in goals against per game (2.31). The Sharks, who have yet to lose since obtaining defenseman Brian Campbell from Buffalo on Feb. 22, rank fourth (2.32).

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has appeared in a league-high 66 games and is in the midst of a career season. He has won his last eight starts while posting a 1.95 GAA and .912 save percentage. Nabokov leads the NHL with 39 wins, is third with six shutouts, and ranks sixth in goals against average (2.19).

"We're playing well," Nabokov said after Sunday's win. "But it's such a competitive league that you can't get too comfortable. If you're going to take time off, you're going to find yourself losing two in a row and fighting for that eighth playoff spot."

During their current run, San Jose has picked up meaningful wins over Pittsburgh, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, and Minnesota. The Sharks' most-recent win spoke to their rising confidence level. It came in a shootout in St. Paul, after the Wild's Brian Rolston tied the game with 28.8 seconds remaining in regulation.

"We're at a point right now where a little bump isn't going to hurt us," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "A little bit of confidence goes a long way."

The Sharks, it seems, are beginning to believe they can overcome any obstacle. But could they get past the defending Cup champs in a seven-game series?

Anaheim has won 12 of 15 games, but the Ducks needed a 3-1 win over Montreal on Sunday to snap a two-game goal-scoring drought. Like San Jose, the Ducks are tough defensively and particularly strong in goal. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has reached the 30-win plateau for the fourth time in his career and the third consecutive season. Giguere has been hot lately, going 3-1-0 with a 1.26 GAA and .948 save percentage in his last four starts.

Anaheim will need to find offense from someone other than leading scorer Corey Perry, who will be out six weeks with a laceration of the right quad tendon. Perry, who will miss at least part of the postseason, suffered the injury when he was cut by the skate of Colorado goaltender Jose Theodore last Thursday in Denver.

"I tried jumping around (Theodore) and trying to whack the puck," Perry said. "He dove and his skate came up. I didn't know I was cut, but I knew something happened."

Home and away -- In an effort to replicate his team's road success (20-13-2), Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky had his team check in to a hotel adjacent to Arena for meetings and to rest prior to Saturday's game with Ottawa.

"We just want to try anything," Gretzky told The Arizona Republic's Jim Gintonio. Alas, the strategy fell short as Ottawa took a 4-2 decision to drop the Coyotes' home record to 14-17-3, worst in the NHL.


Around the Pacific -- The Stars' Philippe Boucher is listed as week-to-week after injuring his right shoulder Feb. 26 vs. Phoenix. Boucher was playing in his third game after sitting out 38 contests following surgery on his left shoulder. … Los Angeles goalie Jason LaBarbera will be out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia. "It's unfortunate," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "He's had a decent season for us." Erik Ersberg is the latest to audition for the Kings' goaltending job. Ersberg shut out Ottawa on Thursday for his first NHL win, and then gave up three goals on Montreal's first four second-period shots in a 5-2 loss Saturday. The Kings have now used a franchise record six goalies (Jonathan Bernier, J.S. Aubin, Dan Cloutier, Jon Quick, LaBarbera, and Ersberg) this season. At a season-ticket holders breakfast Sunday, Crawford spoke bluntly about his team's defensive shortcomings: "When you look at our goals against," Crawford said, "as a coaching staff, we're embarrassed by it, to be quite truthful." The Kings are allowing 3.29 goals per game, worst in the League. … Los Angeles defenseman Rob Blake will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but is expected to sign a one-year extension to remain with the Kings. … According to published reports, the Rangers reportedly nixed a proposed deal at the trade deadline that would have sent Sean Avery to San Jose in exchange for Steve Bernier. … Jeremy Roenick (10 goals, 23 points) would like to return for another season with the Sharks. "I'll talk to (GM) Doug Wilson at the end of the season and see if he'll give the old man another wheel around," Roenick said. … Tomas Plihal became the first Shark to score on a penalty shot this season when he beat Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom Sunday in St. Paul.

Who's hot -- The Sharks' Joe Thornton has two goals and five assists in his last four games. … Anze Kopitar of the Kings has four goals and nine assists in his last eight games. … Brad Richards has one goal and seven assists in his first five games with Dallas.


Who's not -- Mike York of Phoenix has been held off the score sheet for 10-consecutive games. Teammate Keith Ballard is scoreless in six games. … Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin has not scored in five games.

The week ahead -- After meeting the Coyotes in Phoenix on Tuesday, the Ducks return to Anaheim to host Vancouver (Wednesday) and St. Louis (Saturday). … The Stars play just twice this week, visiting Detroit on Thursday before hosting Vancouver on Saturday. … The Kings, who began the week by hosting Vancouver (Monday), will visit Nashville (Thursday) and Minnesota (Saturday). … After dropping the first two contests on a five-game homestand, the Coyotes play host to Anaheim (Tuesday), Vancouver (Thursday) and Edmonton (Saturday). …The Sharks take their 10-game winning streak to Nashville (Tuesday) before returning to San Jose to face St. Louis (Friday) and Edmonton (Sunday).


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