The top-seeded San Jose Sharks reached Thursday night's Western Conference Semifinal against the Detroit Red Wings (9 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN) by defeating the Colorado Avalanche in six games in their first-round series. San Jose came back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits through a tension-filled first four games before busting out with a lopsided victory in Games 5 and then pulling out Game 6. With their top-liners stymied, the Sharks followed the lead of a second line centered by Joe Pavelski, who scored 3 pivotal goals among his series-leading 5.
The fifth-seeded Red Wings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games. Appearing spent against the energetic young Coyotes in a 5-2 loss in Game 6, Detroit came back two nights later in Phoenix to play a near-perfect Game 7. Star forwards Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists, 6-5--11 in the series) and Pavel Datsyuk (2 goals, 5-3--8) and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (2 goals, 3-3--6) rose to the occasion in Game 7, in which the Red Wings fired 50 shots on goal.
Red Wings vs. Sharks (Don Smith/NHLI)
Series Storylines -- Detroit won three of the four regular-season meetings -- two in shootouts, outscoring the Sharks, 12-7. Joe Thornton scored 3 of the 7 Sharks' goals (3-1--4), while no Red Wing registered more than 2 goals or 3 points. Special teams were a factor as the Sharks went scoreless in 10 power-play advantages, while the Red Wings were 3 for 15 (20 percent). Red Wings' goalie Jimmy Howard registered two wins and lost in a shootout (3-2, in the last meeting, Feb. 11), while Evgeni Nabokov had a shootout win, two regulation losses and a shootout loss for San Jose. The team that scored first did not win any of the four games.
Quite a Change -- The Sharks last met the Red Wings in the playoffs in 2007 when Detroit prevailed in six games in their Conference Semifinal series. San Jose enters this year's matchup with a very different looking team, with more than two-thirds of their roster having changed in the three years since -- including a defense corps that is almost completely rebuilt. Only Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evgeni Nabokov from this year's team saw playoff action against the Wings the last time they met.
Familiar Foe -- Sharks coach Todd McLellan faces a Red Wings' team with which he spent three seasons (2005-06 -- 2007-08) as assistant coach under Mike Babcock. With Detroit, McLellan won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and the Presidents' Trophy twice (2005-06 and 2007-08) as the League's top regular-season team.
Familiar Foe II -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who guided Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics, will coach for the first time against four Sharks who were an integral part of his Olympic team: Dan Boyle, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
Familiar Foe III -- Red Wings' defenseman Brad Stuart was drafted by the Sharks third overall in 1998 and averaged over 20 minutes a game in five and a half seasons with San Jose before being traded to Boston on Nov. 30, 2005, in a deal that featured Joe Thornton going the other way.
Fighting Fire with Fire -- The Sharks and Red Wings tied for the best record in the NHL over their final 10 games of the regular season (8-1-1).
Home ice advantage? -- The Sharks will be looking to end a recent series-opening jinx when they open this series. Owning home-ice advantage entering each of their past four Stanley Cup Playoff series, the Sharks dropped Game 1 of all four at HP Pavilion -- to Colorado this year, to Anaheim in the Conference Quarterfinals in 2009, to Calgary in the Conference Quarterfinals in 2008 and to Dallas in the Conference Semifinals in 2008.
Mr. Clutch -- Joe Pavelski, who was a rookie when the Sharks last faced the Red Wings in the playoffs in 2007, led San Jose in scoring during its first-round series win over the Avalanche, tallying 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in six games. He scored a last-minute, game-tying goal in Game 2, notched the overtime winner in Game 4 and tallied the series-clinching goal in Game 6.
And His Wingmen -- Pavelski's line -- he skated for the most part with Ryan Clowe and Devin Setoguchi -- combined for nine goals and 22 points in the first round and accounted for almost half of the Sharks' offense in their win over Colorado.
Playoff Regulars -- The Red Wings' Game 7 win over the Coyotes in the first round was their 70th playoff game since 2007. The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, the longest active streak of qualifying for the postseason among the major pro sports teams. The closest franchises are the New Jersey Devils and the NBA San Antonio Spurs (13-consecutive berths). With 102 points, the Red Wings extended their NHL record with a 10th consecutive 100-point season. These playoffs are the first since 1990-91 that the Red Wings opened without home-ice advantage in the first round.
Captain Fantastic -- Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom enters the Conference semifinal series against the Sharks with 242 career playoff games. The first European-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and hoist the Stanley Cup as a captain, Lidstrom ranks third all-time in Stanley Cup Playoffs games played behind Chris Chelios (266) and Patrick Roy (247).
First Impression -- Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard backstopped the Red Wings to victory in the Conference Quarterfinals after finishing the season 13-0-2 in his last 15 starts. The Red Wings started a rookie netminder after using veterans Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek over the past three postseasons. Osgood was the last rookie to start in goal for the Red Wings (1993-94) in the playoffs.