In what is rather unusual in today’s NHL, the Sharks and Oilers will begin their seven-game series with a back-to-back set of games.
“We played so many games down the stretch, 15 in 27 nights,” said Joe Thornton
. “Back-to-backs are really tough at this time of year. For fans it will be great. They will get two great games to be a part of in two nights.”
San Jose actually played three consecutive back-to-back situations late in the season and was victorious in all six games.
“We were pretty successful at the end of the year with back-to-backs,” said coach Ron Wilson. “I don’t care when we play, we just have to be ready to play.”
The back-to-backs should not be a dramatic issue for Edmonton either.
”Edmonton has a lot of youth as well and I’m sure they feel the same way,” said Wilson.
Jonathan Cheechoo has his Maurice Richard Trophy wrapped up as the NHL’s leading goal scorer and Joe Thornton
has his as the NHL’s leading point man with the Art Ross Trophy. On Thursday, the NHL released a few more names that could bring home some additional hardware. Thornton was named as one of three finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy (voted on by the media) and the Lester Pearson Award (voted on by the players) for being NHL’s top player.
“He’s probably the best player in the League right now,” said Cheechoo. “He deserves it and I hope he gets it. He gave us the confidence we were missing early in the season. He is really down to earth for a superstar and a happy person.”
Not to be outdone, Patrick Marleau
was named as one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and performance.
“He was named for a reason,” said Cheechoo. “He has embraced his role as the captain and leader of this team. Plus, he keeps getting better statistically. We are a young club and he knows the young guys watch him. They respect him. He speaks up more now and he didn’t do that in past years.”
Wilson enjoys the fact that Thornton and Marleau made the cut.
“It is great for those guys,” said Wilson. “They have never been nominated before this year.”
When Jonathan Cheechoo was a young man, he wrote a school essay about one day playing professional hockey for the San Jose Sharks he also took a liking to another Bay Area professional sports team. When he was youngster, Cheechoo enjoyed watching the likes of Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson wear the green and gold of the Oakland Athletics. Cheechoo can be seen sporting an A’s cap in many postgame interviews.
On Wednesday night, they honored the NHL’s leading goalscorer by having him throw out the first pitch.
“I got to going to the clubhouse and meet (Nick) Swisher, (Rich) Harden, (Manager) Ken Macha, (Mark) Kotsay and so many more,” said Cheechoo. “They gave me a jersey with my name and number on it. I want to go when our season is over and get some autographs on it.”
For more pictures of Cheechoo at the A's game, check the bottom of the page.
LOOKING TO “EK”
The Sharks bench boss acknowledged he is looking for Nils Ekman to rise up in Round 2.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Wilson. “If Ek doesn’t play to his capability, maybe we’ll have to put someone else on Joe’s wing to get the job done. ‘Smitty’ (Mark Smith), (Patrick) Rissmiller, Scott Thornton and ‘Nimo’ (Ville Niminen) can play well up there.”
Making a change is not option one.
“My first priority it getting Ek to play at the top of his game,” said Wilson.
The Sharks will open Round 2 of the 2006 Playoffs presented by Intersil against Edmonton on Sunday at 5 p.m. PST at HP Pavilion. The game will be aired on FSN Bay Area (in high definition), 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.
Edmonton defenseman Chris Pronger, still villified in San Jose from his playoff battles while with St. Louis, will undoubtedly be on a keen lookout for Joe Thornton
throughout the series. But Pronger, even logging the 30 minutes a game, cannot cover both the Thornton and Marleau lines.
“If he plays half the game, that is 60 minutes in two games,” said Marleau. “Even with all the minutes, he’ll be competing every shift.”
Most teams with a big strong defense like the Oilers will attempt to wear down an opponent. The Sharks use their big forwards in a reverse manner.
“We want to wear down all their defensemen,” said Joe Thornton
. “Pronger plays a lot of minutes. He is a great defenseman. It is not just one guy for them.”
Wilson will not use the last change to avoid Edmonton’s do-it-all blueliner.
“I could care less about matchups,” said Wilson. “I told our guys they’ve got to play their game no matter who they’re out there against.”
It is not just Pronger that makes the Oilers dangerous.
“(Center Shawn) Horcoff is a really good player,” said Wilson. “He, (left wing Ryan) Smyth and (right wing Alex) Hemsky, those guys can really play. Smyth goes to the net so well and give you effort every single minute. (Left wing and ex-Boston star Sergei) Samsonov put up a lot of points in the first series. They have a lot of dangerous people up front that don’t get a lot of attention. A lot like (Milan) Michalek and (Steve) Bernier.”
The Oilers are a lot like the Sharks in that they are young and quick.
“They are a really young team with a lot of quality players,” said Joe Thornton
. “We are like that as well.”
“We can play any type of game,” said Wilson. “We have the size, skill and speed to play at any level.” Click here for a list of numerous stats comparing and contrasting the Round 2 opponents.