With the opening faceoff of the Western Conference Quarterfinals set to drop Friday night, the Sharks feel more comfortable than they have all season. The offense is clicking on all cylinders, the special team units are performing well and the team defense as a whole looks sharp.
But while guys like Joe Thornton
, Patrick Marleau
and Jonathan Cheechoo have gained a lot of recognition as of late, especially after claiming two of the League’s top awards (Thornton – Art Ross Trophy for League leading scorer, Cheechoo – Maurice Richard Trophy for League goals leader), one person has been less celebrated.
Scott Hannan has quietly become one of the best defenseman in the entire NHL. This past season only made that statement that much more valid. After a slow start frustrated the team’s assistant captain, he bounced back to have an outstanding season.
Maybe it was Hannan’s masterful defending against then Colorado Avalanche Peter Forsberg, with whom he shut down for no five-on-five points in the second round playoff series, which boosted him to elite defenseman status. It is believed that that series caught the eyes of many hockey minds and allowed Hannan the opportunity to suit up for Team Canada and earn a gold medal in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and a silver medal in the 2005 World Championships.
Now, two years later, Hannan is regarded as one of the top shut down defenseman in the League and is perhaps one of the biggest keys to the Sharks success in the playoffs.
But for the Kelowna, British Columbia native has helped Team Teal climb back into the playoffs after seeing his plus-minus rating jump from an at the time League worst minus-22 to a plus-7 to end the season. The jump in his plus-minus rating is a direct effect of how well the team bounced back from its early season woes.
“We battled back great. I give a lot of credit to the guys in this room for sticking with the plan and getting to where we are,” said Hannan. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment to be back in the playoffs.”
It’s been well documented how big of a difference the Sharks played since the arrival of Joe Thornton
at the beginning of December, but another factor in the turnaround was the way the defense stepped up and picked up their game.
“Making the playoffs was obviously a goal we set out at the beginning of the year. We faced a lot of adversity this season,” said Hannan. “It was fun to watch the way this team came together and how we battled together. It’s pretty similar to last year. Both times we’ve had a goalie that stood on his head leading up to the playoffs. We trusted each other on the ice. Our goal was to win the cup and that’ll be the same goal this year.”
With the longest playoff run in franchise history under his belt, Hannan looks forward to making another run at the cup.
“Last year we controlled games a lot more from the get go,” said Hannan. “We played a lot with the lead. I think we saw a little more of that down the stretch with this team.”
As the team is set to take on the Nashville Predators tomorrow night in the Music City, Hannan reminds us that this Nashville team is definitely no push over. With six consecutive wins to close out the season, they finished the campaign as one of the hottest teams in the League.
“They’ve won a lot of games,” added Hannan. “It’s no small feat to have home ice and that’s what they’ve got. They have lots of dangerous players on their team and their team skill and speed is strong. We just have to be strong on defense, play well on the penalty kill and create opportunities for the offense. It’ll be a hard fought series.”
Hannan acknowledges that it’s been a true team effort throughout the season. It will be no different for the next several weeks.
“It’s been everybody,” added Hannan. “You can’t play defense without the offense coming back to help out. The forwards are a big key to the defense and everyone has been playing well together. That’s what we’ll need throughout the playoffs.”
One thing is for sure though. A lot of the team’s turnaround is due to the blueliner. Look for the defense to jump on his back, while he helps lead the Sharks on their quest for the Stanley Cup.