The top-seeded Sharks defeated the Colorado Avalanche in six games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal 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 three pivotal goals among his series-leading five.
The fifth-seeded Red Wings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games in their Conference Quarterfinal. 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 (three assists, 6-5--11 in the series) and Pavel Datsyuk (two goals, 5-3--8) and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (two 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)
Detroit won three of the four regular-season meetings -- two in shootouts, outscoring the Sharks, 12-7. C Joe Thornton scored three of the seven Sharks goals (3-1--4), while no Red Wing registered more than two goals or three 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%). 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 -- 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 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: C 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 eight points (five goals, three 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.
The second-seeded Blackhawks defeated the Nashville Predators in six games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Rallying from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in the series, the 'Hawks rode two Antti Niemi shutouts to get even through four games. They took their first lead in the series with a wild Game 5 victory in which they needed a Patrick Kane shorthanded goal with 14 seconds left in regulation to get to overtime, where Marian Hossa scored upon emerging from the penalty box. Chicago settled down to salt away the series upon emerging from a dizzying first period of Game 6 with a 4-3 lead.
The third-seeded Canucks defeated the Los Angeles Kings in six games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Vancouver also rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits, sweeping the final three games while winning twice in Los Angeles. The Canucks' four-goal third period in Game 4 was pivotal. A 7-2 rout in Game 5 set up Vancouver to clinch the series with another big third period -- three goals in the final 20 minutes of a tense Game 6, including Daniel Sedin's tiebreaker with 2:03 left in regulation.
The teams split their four head-to-head matchups during the 2009-10 season, with each winning a close game on the road and romping at home. Chicago G Antti Niemi shut out the Canucks on Nov. 22 but was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in a Jan. 23 loss. Vancouver G Roberto Luongo made 43 saves to win that Jan. 23 game but was driven from the net by five Blackhawks goals in the first period of the Feb. 5 season series finale.
Same Time, Same Teams: Chicago and Vancouver met in the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals, with the young Blackhawks prevailing in six games. The series turned on Game 4, in which Martin Havlat's late goal forced overtime, where Andrew Ladd scored to lift Chicago to the first of three straight victories. That enabled Chicago to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1995, which also happened to be the previous time the clubs met in the playoffs. Overall, the teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Canucks winning in the 1982 Campbell Conference Final and the Blackhawks prevailing in '95 and '09.
Kane Able vs. Luongo: Chicago RW Patrick Kane torched Roberto Luongo for a hat trick in the 'Hawks' 7-5 series-clinching victory a year ago. Kane, playing for Team USA, also scored against Luongo, playing for Canada, in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. Overall, Luongo has had some forgettable moments against the 'Hawks -- allowing five straight goals in a Game 2 loss last spring, all seven goals in that series' Game 6 and five first-period goals in the teams' last of four meetings in the 2009-10 regular season on Feb. 5. Luongo told Kane in the Olympics handshake line: "I'll see you in the playoffs."
Just Add Frozen Water: Though they are in different divisions and hadn't met in the playoffs in 14 years, the Canucks and Blackhawks have become instant rivals the last two seasons. Luongo was in tears after being strafed by the Blackhawks last spring. The teams brawled in the United Center last season during which Hawk Duncan Keith claimed that Canuck Alex Burrows pulled his hair. Chicago's Andrew Ladd broke the nose of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler with a hit in last spring's playoffs and the two fought this season -- after which Kesler called Ladd a coward. And in their first meeting this season, Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell clobbered Jonathan Toews with an open-ice hit that sidelined the Blackhawks' captain for six games.
Red-light District: The Canucks (3.27 goals/game, second overall in the NHL) and the Blackhawks (3.20 gpg, third) were the two highest-scoring teams in the Western Conference this season. They possess three of the League's top 12 scorers this season (Henrik Sedin -- 112 points, 1st; Patrick Kane -- 88 points, 9th; Daniel Sedin -- 85 points, 12th) and the second highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL (Duncan Keith -- 69 points). Chicago scored 10 goals in its last two games in the first round. Vancouver scored 17 in its last three games. Chicago Blackhawks
Finnishing Touch: G Antti Niemi had never appeared in a Stanley Cup Playoffs game nor won a men's playoff series of any kind until this postseason. His 33-save shutout in Game 4 turned the Conference Quarterfinal vs. Nashville in Chicago's favor. Niemi had his hiccups thereafter -- he was unable to hold a 3-1 lead in the third period of the Game 5 OT victory and allowed three goals on the Predators' first nine shots in Game 6 -- but he stiffened to stop the final 19 shots he faced in the series clincher.
High-Wire Act: The Blackhawks required a shorthanded Patrick Kane goal with 14 seconds left in regulation to send Game 5 vs. Nashville into OT. They got a Jonathan Toews goal with 31 seconds left in the wild first period of Game 6 to take the 4-3 lead they nursed until John Madden's empty-netter in the final seconds of the series.
Killing Them Softly: Chicago's penalty killing was superb in the first round. The Hawks killed 26 of 27 Nashville power plays for a Western Conference-best success rate of 96.3 percent. Factoring in Kane's SHG in Game 5, the 'Hawks scored as many goals as they allowed while shorthanded in the entire series.
Samuelsson Sparks Sedins: When scalding RW Mikael Samuelsson (Playoffs-leading seven goals) assigned to their flank midway through the second period of Game 4, Henrik and Daniel Sedin erupted. Daniel had three assists and Henrik scored the game-winner late in that pivotal contest. The trio combined for three goals and four assists in the Game 5 rout. And the line produced the two third-period goals -- including Daniel's series winner -- that overturned a 2-1 deficit in Game 6.
A Bobby Loo-Loo: With the Canucks trailing, 1-0, early in the second period of Game 6, Roberto Luongo made the save of the series -- and perhaps the entire first round. Down and seemingly out while lying on his side, Luongo reached up with his catching glove to snare Ryan Smyth's ticketed wrister. That save -- and the pile that preceded it in a first period in which Vancouver was outshot, 16-5 -- enabled the Canucks to survive an early Kings onslaught and avoid a Game 7.
Shorthanded Shortcomings: The Los Angeles power play torched Vancouver for nine goals on 16 chances through the first four games of their Western Quarterfinal. But in winning the last two games, the Canucks killed off nine of 10 Kings power plays.