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Sharks expect to draw on past experiences against Blues

by Eric Gilmore /

SAN JOSE – The St. Louis Blues clearly had the San Jose Sharks' number during the regular season, beating them all four times by a combined score of 11-3.

But when it comes to playoff experience, the Sharks have to like the math a lot better approaching their first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. San Jose's roster boasts a combined 1,069 games of playoff experience to 486 for St. Louis. Thirteen Sharks have at least 30 games of postseason experience compared to just five Blues.


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So will playoff experience will be a factor in this first-round series between second-seeded Blues and seventh-seed Sharks?

"It depends which side you're on," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Monday after his team skated at its practice facility. "I'm sure one's playing it up and the other's playing it down.

"At some point, I do believe experience comes into play. Whether you're ahead, behind, certain moments (and) dealing with it during the game, after the game. We have some experience. We don't have enough of it. If we would have had enough of it, we would have had more success the past two years. But we do have some we can draw on, and I believe that we'll need that at some point."

The Sharks reached the Western Conference Finals the past two years and have now made the playoffs seven straight seasons. That run has helped Sharks forward Patrick Marleau rack up a team-high 124 games of playoff experience. Defenseman Colin White, in his first season with the Sharks, has appeared in 117 playoff games, while Joe Thornton has appeared in 109, Dan Boyle 84, Martin Havlat 67, Michal Handzus 66, Ryane Clowe and Marc-Edouard Vlasic 63, Joe Pavelski 58, Douglas Murray 52 and Torrey Mitchell 50.

Forward Tommy Wingels is the only Shark who has never appeared in an NHL playoff game.

"The highs and lows of a playoff game or a playoff series feel a bit more natural with experience," Marleau said. "You try to pass that on to guys who don't have that much experience. That's one of the areas. When you're in those key situations and you know you've been there before and have succeeded and sometimes failed and you know how it goes."

Over the past two seasons, Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago and reached the Western Conference Finals in his first season with San Jose. He said playoff experience gives the Sharks confidence as they enter the postseason.

"Especially if we struggle, we know we've been there before," Niemi said. "We went far. It helps us."

The Blues have a pair of players with over 100 games of playoff experience – Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. Former Sharks defenseman Kent Huskins has appeared in 47 postseason games, Andy McDonald 41 and Scott Nichol, another ex-Shark, 40. After that, no other Blue has appeared in more than 21 postseason games.

Logan Couture
Logan Couture
Center - SJS
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 65
SOG: 245 | +/-: 2
"They've got some guys over there who have played over 100 playoff games, too," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "Those guys have got some experience, and I'm sure they're helping their young guys along."

The Sharks are counting on their tough road to the playoffs to help them against the Blues. They've been seeded either No. 1 or 2 the past four years and haven't been seeded lower than fifth since 2000 when they were No. 8 and, incidentally, beat the No. 1 Blues in seven games.

"It's been a little different leading up to the playoffs," Clowe said. "In the past, we had a comfortable lead in the division and you're more or less waiting to see who you're going to play and not if you're going to make it. Sometimes you cruise into the playoffs. This year, we haven't. We've played some real playoff-type hockey here the last couple weeks. We played really well. That's a good sign. We'll need to play that style.

"They're a strong team. Obviously, they showed that this year. They play a hard game. They're not fancy or use trickery or anything like that. They play a real strong man's game, I guess you can call it. We'll be ready."

The Sharks prepared for the playoffs by winning their final four games, beating Dallas twice then Los Angeles twice. They didn't clinch a playoff spot until last Thursday.

"We've been battling -- just like when you're battling in the playoffs," Clowe said. "When you're going for the last spot, you're battling just like you're battling in the playoffs for elimination. You don't want to get eliminated and go home yet. We've played that way. We played with a lot of emotion. That's how it gets in the playoffs.

"I think we have all guys firing right now. It's not like you need to get anyone going. We've had everyone going the last couple of weeks and it showed."

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