SAN JOSE SHARKS (1st Pacific Division, 1st Western Conference)
The Sharks qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth straight season and only have missed the playoffs five times in their 19-year NHL history (including their first two seasons in existence). San Jose captured its third straight Pacific Division title and finished with the best record in the Western Conference for the second straight season. The Sharks have won 50 games or more three times in the last four seasons -- and have won at least 49 games four years in a row.
Having surged into the Olympic Break, the Sharks stumbled coming out of it, going just 3-6-1 in their first 10 games upon resuming their schedule. Sending eight players to the Olympics might have had something to do with that. But San Jose righted itself to go 8-1-1 in its last 10 games.
Seeking to Make Amends:
Despite amassing at least 99 points in the standings in each of the last six regular seasons, the Sharks have survived the second round of the playoffs just once -- making it to the 2004 Western Conference Final, where they lost to Calgary. In the four playoffs since, the Sharks have been eliminated in the conference semifinals three times and were knocked out in the first round by Anaheim last spring.
The Sharks are blessed with three of the NHL's top 15 scorers -- only Washington can boast the same -- in C Joe Thornton
(eighth, 89 points), LW Patrick Marleau
(14th, 83 points) and RW Dany Heatley
(15th, 82 points). D Dan Boyle
also ranked fourth among NHL blueliners with 58 points. Marleau (44 goals, fourth) and Heatley (39, eighth) also ranked in the League's top 10 among goal-scorers.
Marleau The Finisher:
The last two seasons have seen Marleau taking his goal-scoring to another level. Having dropped down in 2007-09 to 19 goals, his lowest total in eight years, he has scored 38 and 44 in the past two seasons -- both career-highs.
Up Or Down, They're Up:
The Sharks ranked fourth in the NHL on the power play (21.0 percent and fifth on the penalty kill (85.0 percent).
One area in which San Jose did not excel this season was extra play. They won only eight of 19 games that were tied at the end of regulation (8-5-6).
Is Nabby Up to It?:
Like many of his teammates, G Evgeni Nabokov
had made a recent habit of playing superbly during the regular season and faltering in the playoffs. His 44 wins ranked second in the League behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur
(45) he ranked 10 th in goals-against average (2.43) and sixth in save percentage (.922). That makes three straight 40-win seasons for Nabokov. But he is just 32-31 in his career in the playoffs. And last spring, he stopped just 89 percent of the shots he faced in the Sharks' six-game loss to Anaheim.
COLORADO AVALANCHE (2nd Northwest Division, 8th Western Conference)
Worth The Call:
It was 10 a.m. on July 1, 2009 and the free agency period had just begun when one of the first calls that Avalanche GM Greg Sherman made was to then free agent goaltender, Craig Anderson
. Anderson said of the call at the time: " After I talked to (Sherman), I knew this was the place I wanted to come. I was one of the first players they called, so I feel good about that. "
Answered The Call:
Anderson established franchise records in games (71), starts (71), minutes (4,235), shots faced (2,233) and saves (2,047). He started 34 of Colorado's final 37 games, including 23 in a row from Jan. 9 to March 14. Only Patrick Roy
(40) registered more wins in a season in franchise history than Anderson's 38.
Stanley Cup Debut:
Anderson is one of several goalies who will compete in the playoffs with no previous post-season experience, including the Western Conference's Jimmy Howard
(Detroit), Jonathan Quick
(Los Angeles), Pekka Rinne
(Nashville) and Antti Niemi
Stanley Cup Debut II:
The Avalanche will enter the Stanley Cup playoffs with at least five rookies in their lineup -- Matt Duchene
(19), T.J. Galiardi
(21), Ryan O'Reilly
(19), Ryan Wilson
(23) and Brandon Yip
(24). No team has had more than five rookies play a major role in the playoffs since Anaheim had six (Dustin Penner
, Francois Beauchemin
, Chris Kunitz
, Ryan Getzlaf
, Corey Perry
and Ilya Bryzgalov
) help the club reach the Western Conference Final in 2006.
Stanley Cup Debut III:
Joe Sacco is one of two coaches (Cory Clouston, Ottawa) who will be making his Stanley Cup playoff debut. In addition, Colorado is in the rare position of having both a rookie General Manager and coach guide a club into the post-season.
Colorado's rookies combined for a League-best 166 points (64 goals, 102 assists), well ahead of second-place New York Islanders
(98 points).The Avalanche used 10 rookies who combined for 355 games, also first in the NHL by a wide margin (Florida Panthers
Down But Not Out:
The Avalanche overcame a two-goal deficit to win a game on eight occasions this season, tied for second most in the League (Washington ranked 1st with 9).
What A Difference A Year Makes:
The Avalanche ranked sixth in the League in total goals (244), 45 more than in 2008-09 (199).
Who's Been Out:
The Avalanche have been without RW's David Jones
since Nov. 28 and Peter Mueller
since Mar. 28 with injuries.