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Red Wings-Sharks: Series Preview

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT -- The Red Wings will open the Western Conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the San Jose Sharks this Thursday, April 26, and Saturday, April 28 at Joe Louis Arena.

  • Game 1: Thu., April 26, 7:30 p.m. @ Detroit
  • Game 2: Sat., April 28, 3 p.m. @ Detroit
  • Game 3: Mon., April 30, 10 p.m. @ San Jose
  • Game 4: Wed., May 2, 10 p.m. @ San Jose
  • Game 5: Sat., May 5, 2 p.m. @ Detroit
  • Game 6: Mon., May 7, TBD @ San Jose (if necessary)
  • Game 7: Wed., May 9, TBD @ Detroit (if necessary)

The Skinny
Before the puck drops in Game 1, the Wings and Sharks can compare the wounds they suffered in the first round against two of the more physical teams in the conference. Detroit took everything the Calgary Flames dished out and the Sharks made it look easier than it was in erasing the gnarly Predators in the opening round.

Detroit would rather not play the pounding, checking game they were required to play against the Flames, while San Jose is a team built for skating and punishment with their combination of speed and size. Nicklas Lidstrom and the Wings defense are going to have a hard time tracking the San Jose attack, which averages over six-feet tall up front.

The Red Wings might not have goalmouth force Tomas Holmstrom for the beginning of the series as he's day-to-day nursing an eye injury, so the offense is going to have to come from other outlets until he's ready to go. If scorers like Pavel Datsyuk and Robert Lang can't get hot, it could be a short series for Detroit, a team that has made it out of the first round only twice since winning the Stanley Cup in 2002.

This is as far as the Sharks got a year ago and they seem to be on a mission to improve on last spring's second-round elimination. Could there be a changing of the guard under way in the Western Conference power structure? Stay tuned.

Detroit Game-Breakers
Pavel Datsyuk: Who says he doesn't score in the playoffs? Datsyuk went three playoff seasons without scoring a goal, bringing into question his big-game ability. But the shifty Russian playmaker put that baggage behind him in scoring a team-high three goals in the first round against the Flames. Datsyuk plays over 20 minutes per game, and now that he's silenced critics that were chirping since he last scored a playoff goal in 2002, Datsyuk has the confidence to lead the Detroit attack. He'll likely draw the opponents' top checking assignment.

Nicklas Lidstrom: It may be getting repetitive, but there are few defensemen in the world with Lidstrom's knack for escaping from danger, keeping the opposition's top scoring lines at bay and maintaining a sense of calmness in the defensive end. Lidstrom was Detroit's best player in the first round, led the team in scoring with eight points in six games against the Flames. He also had a major role in shutting down Calgary's top scorers, helping to hold Jarome Iginla to two goals and a minus-2 rating in the first round.

Johan Franzen: The truth is that if he didn't win the first-round series with Calgary in double-overtime in Game 6, then he doesn't make this short list. But the fact remains that in addition to scoring the biggest goal of the series -- the Yzerman-like slap from a stride inside the blue line -- Franzen has emerged as one of Detroit's most dependable forwards. He was third on the team in scoring in the opening round on a line with Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang, and most important, Franzen was plus-7 so far in the playoffs, tied with Michael Nylander for tops in the league.

San Jose Game-Breakers
Patrick Marleau: The leading playoff scorer from last year's squad has picked up where he left off a year ago. Marleau, a San Jose lifer, is leading the Sharks in scoring again with three goals and six points in the first round. When it comes to the San Jose attack, there's an element of pick your poison, but even operating on a line with Jumbo Joe Thornton, Marleau seems to attract a great deal of the defense's attention.

Joe Thornton: You know he's going to look to pass, you know ahead of time Thornton is more of a playmaker than he is a sniper, yet all the guy manages to do ? regular season or in the playoffs ? is rack up assists. He dished out six in the opening round against Nashville in a physical, close-quarter, punishing series. Always a tough matchup because of his size and talent, Thornton played 22:04 per night in the first round and is on a mission to take the Sharks all the way this year after last season's disappointing ouster.

Milan Michalek: If you're trying to defend the Sharks' top line, you obviously concentrate on Thornton. Then there's former 50-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo to contend with. On the other side, it's easy to forget about Michalek. Nashville lost track of the big, speedy forward in the first round and Michalek made them pay, scoring a team-high four goals (all even strength) in the opening round. He's young, but Michalek gets plenty of ice (19:30 per) and with a plus-2 rating, he's defensively responsible.

Todd Bertuzzi: Big Bert wasn't healthy all year with the Florida Panthers and his injury woes seeped into the playoffs, where it was apparent he was not operating at 100 percent. Still, Mike Babcock continues to give Bertuzzi ice time (he averaged 16:56 in the first round) and the big winger chipped in with a goal and three points in four games against the Flames. Opponents have yet to see Bertuzzi's best in the playoffs, but if somehow is able to find his A-game, he can be the difference maker for the Wings.

Curtis Brown: A grizzled playoff veteran, Brown isn't going to lead the team in scoring or be the guy to score the clutch goal with the game on the line. But the one constant he does bring to the table is his ability to hound, frustrate and shut down the opposition's top scorers. He was greatly responsible for the blanket the Sharks threw over Predators Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya in the opening round and will again be counted on to curb enemy scoring in the second round. He might not be a marked man in the series, but Brown can essentially cancel anyone out with his defensive play. Runner up: defenseman Craig Rivet.

Crystal Ball
Detroit will win if: they can put the clamps on San Jose's deep and talented group of forwards. Defensemen like Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Brett Lebda and Mathieu Schneider are going to have their hands full with Thornton and Marleau, but if there's a defense corps capable of shutting them down, it's Detroit's. In goal, Dominik Hasek is going to have to be better and more composed than he was in the first round against the Flames and the defense in front of him is going to have to pay closer attention to San Jose's secondary scorers like Michalek and Bernier. Last but not least, Pavel Datsyuk needs to stay hot.

San Jose will win if: its defense can rise to the challenge to stopping Detroit's dangerous attack. If it can shut down the Red Wings' top line with Datsyuk and can control Robert Lang's group, then the Sharks won't have to score many goals in the series. They are young, but the Sharks made it through a punishing first round series against Nashville without as many bumps and bruises as you'd expect. Now if they can pound the Red Wings harder than the Flames gave it to them in the opening round, the Sharks should have no trouble advancing to the conference finals.

Five Fast Facts
Nick of time: While they were not as dramatic as Franzen's series-winning goal in double-overtime, Lidstrom's two winners in the first round (Games 1 and 2) led the Red Wings. Lidstrom now has nine career game-winning goals in the playoffs.

Finding the net: Defenseman Mathieu Schneider led all playoff shooters with 34 shots on net in the first round. The next defenseman on the list is Vancouver's Sami Salo, who was No. 12 in the league with 21 shots on goal.

Motown 5-0: The Red Wings had five players averaging over 20 minutes per game in the first round, which was also the same number of players on the roster who did not record a point in the opening round against Calgary.

The fab four: San Jose remains one of the younger teams left standing with four rookies in the lineup that have made heavy contributions. Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all averaging over 13:00 per game in the playoffs.

Not too Nabby: With a 2.39 GAA in the first round against Nashville, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov lowered his career goals-against in the playoffs to a tidy 2.18. In 40 postseason games, Nabokov is 22-16 with four shutouts.

Fresh faces: At the trading deadline, San Jose acquired D Craig Rivet from Montreal and RW Bill Guerin from St. Louis while Detroit added RW Todd Bertuzzi from Florida and LW Kyle Calder from Philadelphia in a three-way trade including Chicago.

For Wilson, a return home: Sharks head coach Ron Wilson has deep ties to the Detroit area. Wilson was born across the Detroit River, in Windsor, Ontario. His father Larry and uncle Johnny both played for and coached the Red Wings. Wilson has faced the Red Wings twice in the playoffs as head coach, with Anaheim in a 1997 Western Conference Semifinal and with Washington in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final. Each best-of-seven series was swept by Detroit.

Back to the Motor City: For the Sharks, this marks their third playoff series against the Red Wings, equaling the most against any NHL club (Colorado, St. Louis). They shocked the Red Wings in their Stanley Cup playoff debut in 1994, eliminating their highly-favored opponent in a seven-game Western Conference Quarterfinal. The Red Wings turned the tables the following year, sweeping the Sharks in a second-round series.

Hart-to-Hart: This series matches a pair of Hart Trophy winners as NHL MVP, San Jose C Joe Thornton and Detroit G Dominik Hasek. Thornton has no goals and nine assists in 18 career games against Hasek, including a four-assist effort in their most recent encounter, a 9-4 San Jose win Jan. 4.

Cheli keeps on going: 45-year-old Wings defenseman Chris Chelios has appeared in 234 career playoff games, two shy of tying Mark Messier for second place all-time and the most among non-goaltenders. Patrick Roy ranks first overall with 247 appearances.

Most Career Playoff Games:

  • 1. Patrick Roy: Montreal, Colorado (247)
  • 2. Mark Messier: Edmonton, New York Rangers (236)
  • 3. Chris Chelios: Montreal, Chicago, Detroit (234)

Chelios, Lidstrom among top-scoring 'D': The Wings' Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom rank seventh and eighth, respectively, on the all-time playoff scoring list for defensemen. Chelios has 140 points (39 goals, 101 assists), Lidstrom has 126 (37 goals, 89 assists). The only blueliners ahead of the Red Wings duo are Paul Coffey (196), Ray Bourque (180), Denis Potvin (164), Al MacInnis (160), Larry Murphy (152) and Larry Robinson (144).

Red Wings-Sharks season recap: The Sharks won three of four games in the 2006-07 season series, including a record-setting performance in the final encounter, a 9-4 victory at San Jose Jan. 4. The Sharks trailed 3-0 but rallied with a team-record six power-play goals, also the most the Red Wings have surrendered in one game. Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek allowed eight goals, marking the first time he had allowed more than five in one game since March, 2000. Sharks captain Patrick Marleau passed Owen Nolan as the Sharks' all-time scoring leader during the game.

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