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Sharks try to use time off to their best advantage

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- Four days after finishing a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the San Jose Sharks continued Saturday to prepare for a second-round test in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

The Sharks are down to two possibilities: the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, or the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

If the Anaheim Ducks defeat the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of their quarterfinal series Sunday at Honda Center, the Sharks will open the second round at Chicago. If the Red Wings defeat the Ducks, the Sharks will open at Los Angeles.

"Two is easier to prepare for than three," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after a fast-paced, energized practice. "Again today we approached practice in refreshing the things we wanted to do as a team and then we looked at some situations that both Chicago and L.A. would present to us in certain areas of the game and tried to work toward it."

Based on the numbers from this season, the Sharks might be rooting, at least privately, for a matchup against the Kings. San Jose lost all three of its games against Chicago -- all in regulation -- by a combined score of 11-5. They lost 5-3 at HP Pavilion, and the Blackhawks won 4-1 and 2-1 at United Center. All three games took place in February.

The Sharks split their four-game series with Los Angeles, winning twice at HP Pavilion and losing twice at Staples Center.

Are there a lot of similarities between the Blackhawks and Kings?

"Yes and no," McLellan said. "Their teams play a little bit different; their makeup's a little bit different. They both won Stanley Cups in the last couple years, so they've got experience and they've played through some adversity. So from that aspect it's very much the same, but yet the way they play and the makeup of their game is somewhat different."

Preparing for the Kings, their Pacific Division rivals, probably would be easier for the Sharks simply because of familiarity. They played Los Angeles twice each in March and April. San Jose also faced Los Angeles six times last season, winning four, including a pair of shootouts.

San Jose split four games with Chicago last season, both wins coming at HP Pavilion.

San Jose has faced Chicago and Los Angeles one time apiece in the postseason. The Blackhawks swept the Sharks in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, and the Sharks beat the Kings in the 2011 conference quarterfinals in five games, with three of the wins in overtime.

That sweep against Chicago came eight days after San Jose finished a five-game series against the Detroit Red Wings. Rust from a long layoff might have been a factor against Chicago, but San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle said he'll take extra rest at the risk of rust every time in the postseason.

"I think it's a benefit," Boyle said of the time off. "People often talk about rust coming back, but I'll take rust over getting beat up over the course of seven games against another opponent. We're doing the best we can out there. We still don't know who we're playing. It's about us at the end of the day. I like the days off."

Injured defenseman Jason Demers is using the long break between series to work his way back into playing shape. He practiced with the team for the first time since injuring his left ankle late in the regular season. He missed the final four regular-season games and all four games in the first round against Vancouver. Demers exited practice early after working for around 30 minutes.

"He was out early, too, so he got a good skate [Saturday]," McLellan said. "I believe any time a player joins the group again is a big step. Now it's going to be full participation before he can play."

Top-six forward Martin Havlat (lower body), who hasn't played or practiced since being injured early in Game 1 against Vancouver, was not on the ice. Neither was fourth-line forward Adam Burish (right hand), who was injured in Game 4 and ruled out for the entire second round.

Tim Kennedy continued to get work at Burish's spot on a line centered by Scott Gomez. Bracken Kearns spent some practice time on that line too. Kearns, who played one game for the Sharks this season, led Worcester of the American Hockey League in goals (21), assists (25) and points (46). He's the son of Dennis Kearns, who played 10 seasons with the Canucks.

McLellan said Matt Pelech, who appeared in two games this season for the Sharks, is another option. He led Worcester with 238 penalty minutes. Pelech converted from defense to right wing this season.

"All of those players are involved in all of the meetings," McLellan said. "Each one of them will be prepared to play, and we'll see who the opponent is and how we stack up and we'll make some decisions."

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