Thursday morning marked the final pregame skate before the Sharks embark on their second season tonight against Anaheim in Game One of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
There were no surprises in the forward lines – all four remained the same – and Head Coach Todd McLellan confirmed that Claude Lemieux will be a healthy scratch.
Following practice, the playoff media mayhem began.
The most popular topics included the physical nature of the series alongside the importance of special teams and getting an early lead. Anaheim was second in the National Hockey League in penalty minutes (17.4 minutes per game) during the regular season so as long as the Sharks can maintain their composure, their power play with reap the benefits.
“Special teams are always important in playoffs,” said center Jeremy Roenick, who has scored 53 goals in the postseason, including 17 on the power play. “You saw last night special teams pretty much won the game for the Rangers.” Roenick was referring to New York’s two power play goals that helped them beat Washington in the first game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
“They’re huge every year,” said center Patrick Marleau
about the importance of the power play in the postseason. “You can pretty much look at the Stanley Cup winners each year and their power play and penalty kill have been both the best or near the best. There’s more emphasis on those during the playoffs.”
Center Joe Thornton
went as far to say that special teams will be the determining factor on who advances to the conference semifinals.
“That’s probably what’s going to win the series -- who’s better on the power play and who’s better on the penalty kill,” Thornton said.
Discipline will also be a big factor for the Sharks. With higher levels of intensity and emotion, they can’t retaliate when the Ducks get desperate. But that’s easier said than done.
“It’s definitely going to be a physical series and the biggest thing will be turning the other cheek sometimes,” said Dan Boyle
, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “They’ll be times in the games when you can get involved, but there’s going to be other times when you’ve got to go on the power play so you can score some goals.”
And how hard is it to turn the other cheek?
“It’s tough man,” Boyle said with a laugh. “It’s really tough.”
The Sharks have the opportunity to set the tone for the series tonight, something they failed to do in 2008. On April 9, San Jose fell to Calgary 3-2 in the first game of the Western Conference Quarterfinals and on April 25, the Stars stole Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in overtime, 3-2.
But the team of old looks nothing like the team of new. With the addition of players like Boyle, Rob Blake, Brad Lukowich, Travis Moen, Kent Huskins and Lemieux, the Sharks now have six former Stanley Cup winners on their roster.
“I think we’re a lot better (than last year),” Thornton said. “We have better depth up front, we have better defense. I think altogether we’re a better team.”
“I hope we don’t wait until the second game to get desperate,” McLellan said in his post-practice presser. “I don’t know what they plan on doing but if we have to wait until Game Two to get desperate, we’ve wasted the first opportunity to put ourselves ahead of the eight ball.”
McLellan went on to explain that four-time Stanley Cup winner Lemieux won’t be playing tonight. It was a difficult decision for him, but one the coaching staff is lucky to make because it means they have options.
Lemieux completely understood.
“It’s one game in the first round,” Lemieux said. “The guys that are in the lineup are the guys that have been playing with this team all year. I said from Day One, my contribution to the team goes beyond the ice. I’m ready. If I get the call tomorrow, I’m ready. If I get the call this afternoon, I’m ready.”
The Sharks will start their run for the Stanley Cup tonight against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals at HP Pavilion at 7:30. The game will be broadcast on CSN in HD, 98.5 KFOX FM and SJSHARKS.com.