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Sharks invade Detroit on Thursday night

by Mike G. Morreale
A possible preview of the Western Conference Final will be staged Thursday in Detroit when the red-hot San Jose Sharks invade Joe Louis Arena to battle the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

The anticipated matchup pitting the top two teams in the West is the second meeting between the clubs this season. In the earlier contest on Oct. 30, San Jose scored a 4-2 victory as Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov made 25 saves. In the post-game press conference following the game, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock admitted his team got "winged."

"I thought they did everything exactly like we try to do," Babcock said. "They just did it better."

The fact San Jose coach Todd McLellan spent three seasons as an assistant to Babcock in Detroit before taking the reigns as head coach in San Jose last June probably had a lot to do with that.

"Todd and I have texted and talked a couple of times and I'm thrilled for him," Babcock told "He's doing a real good job and he's got a real hungry team. They have had tons of success and haven't had the playoff success they wanted. He's got his guys chomping and they've come of age. Adding (Dan) Boyle and (Rob) Blake has really solidified their back end and gets the puck going for them. And, Todd is a real good coach and a real good man. So, I'll be thrilled for him right up until playoff time."

Boyle downplayed the fact San Jose (24-3-3) is currently six points better than the Wings (20-5-4).

"Our records are pretty similar but we have the edge, so far," Boyle said. "Honestly, depth has probably the biggest key for us. We have four lines and six defenders. When our top goalie (Nabokov) got hurt, our backup (Brian Boucher) came in and did a great job. We've been lucky health-wise since we've been pretty injury-free. It's a long season and nothing really matters until June anyway."

Honoring the captain -- Former Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden will become only the second player to have his number retired in the club's 39-year history on Wednesday at General Motors Place.

Prior to the Canucks hosting the Edmonton Oilers, Linden's No. 16 will be raised to the rafters alongside Stan Smyl's No. 12 during a pregame ceremony.

Linden is extremely humbled and honored to be considered so highly by the team that drafted him second overall in 1988.

"It's going to be very special to have my number beside Stan's because he was special to me back in the day and taught me how to be professional and that was very meaningful," Linden said. "I was in the League a long time and always looked to the rafters to see those retired jerseys wherever I went. It's going to mean so much because the people in the building always meant so much to me. I have so many great memories. I'll have to figure out what I want to say and get it across the right way."

The 38-year-old Linden retired as a Canuck on the 20th anniversary of his draft day, June 11, 2008. He retired after 19 seasons and 867 career points (375 goals) in 1,382 regular season games. He also played for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.

"Mentally, I felt (retirement) was the right thing at the right time," Linden said. "I have no regrets and am thankful for the years I've had. I'm confident in my decision, but it'll be different. There are times throughout you're career where you feel maybe things could have gone differently, especially when we reached the Stanley Cup in 1994, but the flip side to that is I was able to leave the game healthy, was able to play my last year, enjoy the year and leave the game on my own terms. To have that luxury was special for sure."

Historic night -- Friday marks the anniversary of the first regular-season games ever played in the NHL.

The League opened a 22-game schedule on Dec. 19, 1917, with two games. The Montreal Canadiens scored a 7-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Wanderers recorded a 10-9 victory over the Toronto Arenas.

The Wanderers' Harry Hyland scored five goals in his team's opening night triumph and Joe Malone, the game's first superstar, potted five in the Canadiens' triumph. Malone, who posted three five-goal games during the season, won the scoring title with 44 goals in 20 games in 1917-18.

Holiday freeze -- While the NHL officially begins its holiday roster freeze on Friday, Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke began his organization's unofficial freeze last week.

The League's imposed freeze, during which no NHL team can perform waivers or trades, runs Dec. 19-27.

"I want my players to enjoy the holidays, as I always do," Burke said. "Sure, there's some work to be done, but adding Dave Nonis (as senior vice-president of hockey operations on Dec. 4) to the management team will be critical for us when things start up again in that first week."

Super Saturday -- The NHL will have 24 of its 30 teams in action on Saturday in 12 games, including three divisional contests. Here's a breakdown:

Atlantic Division

Washington at Philadelphia
-- The contest marks the first meeting between the teams since a dramatic Game 7 victory by the Flyers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round last season. Just one point separates each club, so you can expect end-to-end fireworks for 60 minutes and beyond, if necessary. The Flyers (16-7-6, 38 points), winners of four straight, have been led offensively by Jeff Carter (3 goals, 4 assists over last 4 games), Simon Gagne (team-leading plus-18 rating for season) and captain Mike Richards, who owns a seven-game point streak that includes 6 goals and 6 assists. The Caps (18-10-3, 39 points), winner of five of their last six, have received clutch play from -- who else -- Alex Ovechkin. The 2008 Hart Trophy recipient leads the team in goals (17), assists (23) and points (40) through 29 games. Nicklas Backstrom ranks second on the team in assists (21) and points (31) and Alexander Semin sports a team-leading plus-19 rating.

Northeast Division

Buffalo at Montreal -- The two teams have already split two one-goal games this season with the Canadiens earning a 3-2 decision in the most recent meeting on Nov. 29. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller continues to be a workhorse for the Sabres. He made his sixth straight start against the Maple Leafs last Friday and has appeared in all but six of Buffalo's 30 games. Offensively, Thomas Vanek leads the team with 29 points behind a League-leading 24 goals. The Canadiens, four points ahead of the Sabres, are 9-4-3 at Bell Centre this season. Alternate captain Alex Kovalev hasn't scored a goal in 19 straight games but he does have six assists over his last six games. Robert Lang is the only Canadiens player who has produced double-digit goals this season with 10.
Southeast Division

Tampa Bay at Atlanta -- A strange thing happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning before they were finally able to celebrate their first victory in 10 games on Thursday -- a 3-1 decision over Montreal. Following a 4-2 loss to the Sabres on Wednesday, the team's  charter flight out of Buffalo encountered mechanical problems and forced the team to fly to Montreal Thursday morning. The team stayed at a hotel near the Buffalo airport, flew out late in the morning and arrived in Montreal in the afternoon. Could this be the anecdote to future success for the League's 30th ranked team? Things aren't much better in Atlanta, which is 28th in the League. Still, wing Joey Crabb, recently inserted into fourth-line duty, scored his first goal of the season in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers on Wednesday. Crabb, who has a goal, two assists and 22 penalty minutes in the last five games, has been playing with center Jim Slater and Eric Boulton.

Air time - Don't forget, the NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement airs every Thursday from 4-5 p.m. throughout the season on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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