Hockey fans from the Golden State will have to wait at least one more year for an all-California Western Conference Final. On Friday night, the 2007 Western Conference Finals get underway as the Anaheim Ducks travel to Joe Louis Arena for their third-round matchup with the Detroit Red Wings.
For the second consecutive season, the Ducks have advanced to the conference championship and for the second consecutive season, they will be playing the team that eliminated the Sharks from the Western Conference Semifinals in six games.
In 2006, after jumping out to a commanding 2-0 series lead, the Sharks fell to the Edmonton Oilers who rattled off four consecutive wins to advance. Wasting no time after eliminating San Jose, Edmonton stormed into Anaheim and claimed both Games One and Two on enemy ice. Edmonton later would take a 3-0 series lead over Anaheim before dispatching the Ducks in five and earning their spot in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
This season’s voyage was, as Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson described it, “eerily reminiscent” to last season’s. In 2007, San Jose was just 33.1 seconds away from sealing victory and a 3-1 series lead in Game Four. Instead, the unthinkable happened when Detroit forward Robert Lang’s 65-foot slap shot from the top of the left circle beat Evgeni Nabokov, sending the game into overtime.
Detroit went on to score the game winner on the power play in the first overtime session of Game Four, tying the series 2-2. They would not lose another game to the Sharks, ending Team Teal’s quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup in six games.
THREE OF FOUR CONFERENCE FINALISTS HAVE SHARKS CONNECTIONS
Of the four remaining teams in the NHL Playoffs, three of the teams feature players that have spent time in San Jose as a member of the Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators each have one player on their squad that has played for the Sharks. Only the Buffalo Sabres do not.
In Anaheim, Teemu Selanne, who spent parts of three seasons with the Sharks after being traded to San Jose from Anaheim, is back in Orange County and playing inspired hockey in his second stint with the Ducks. The talented right winger led the Ducks in scoring in the regular season, but will likely be remembered in 2006-07 by Sharks fans for his costly illegal stick penalty in a late-season meeting between the two teams that helped lead to a Sharks victory.
In Detroit is Mikael Samuelsson, San Jose’s fifth round pick at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. The former Shark appeared in only four games for San Jose before he was traded along with Christian Gosselin and a seventh round selection to the New York Rangers in exchange for Adam Graves, Rich Pilon and future considerations. The defensive center appears to have found a home in Detroit and will be remembered by Sharks fans for his two goals in Game Six of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals, a 2-0 Red Wings victory, that eliminated the Sharks.
In the east is Tom Preissing (pictured at right), who patrolled the Sharks blueline in 2005-06. Preissing was shipped to the Ottawa Senators this past offseason in a three-team deal that brought left wing Mark Bell to San Jose from Chicago. Preissing finished a successful campaign in Ottawa and ranked fourth in the League in plus-minus (plus-40) in the regular season. Recently, Preissing scored the game-winning goal in Game Three of Ottawa’s second round victory over the New Jersey Devils.
2007 IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP ENTERS MEDAL ROUND
Current Sharks players Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
and Scott Hannan (Canada), Christian Ehrhoff and Marcel Goc (Germany), Bill Guerin (United States) and Evgeni Nabokov (Russia) all have IIHF World Championship experience to their credit. In addition, Matt Carle (United States) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
(Canada) have IIHF World Junior Championship experience.
But due to the combination of the tournament’s start date and the Sharks advancing to the conference semifinals, none of the aforementioned players were able to suit up for their respective countries at the 2007 IIHF World Championship in Moscow this year. However, Sharks goaltending prospect Dimitri Patzold (Germany) did represent his country at this year’s tournament.
Patzold, who spent the season with San Jose’s top AHL Affiliate, the Worcester Sharks, helped Germany by posting a 2-1 record. Earning victories over Norway (W, 5-3) and Belarus (W, 6-5) and suffering his only defeat at the hands of the United States (L, 0-3), Patzold finished with a 3.66 goals-against average and an .841 save percentage in his three starts.
However, Germany managed just a 1-2 record when Patzold was not in goal and did not qualify for the Medal Round. The Medal Round is set to open on Saturday when Russia and Finland meet in one semifinal, while Canada and Sweden square off in the second semifinal. The winners of Russia vs. Finland and Canada vs. Sweden will clash in the gold medal game on Sunday evening in Moscow.