Monday marked the start of the postseason and every member of the Sharks was on the rink for practice at Sharks Ice at San Jose.
During the one-hour session, the top two lines remained the same: Joe Thornton
centered Patrick Marleau
and Devin Setoguchi while Joe Pavelski
anchored the second line with Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe
The third line had the addition of Jonathan Cheechoo, back on the ice after missing the past two games with a lower body injury. “Cheech” played alongside Travis Moen and Marcel Goc on the checking line while Mike Grier, Jeremy Roenick and Jody Shelley made up the fourth line.
Also on the ice were right wing Claude Lemieux, center Torrey Mitchell
and left wing Jamie McGinn, who was called up from Worcester that morning.
Although Head Coach Todd McLellan did say Mitchell would travel with the team to Anaheim, he was unsure when he would return to the lineup.
Every member of the Sharks defense -- including Kent Huskins, who has been recovering from a foot injury -- skated during the one-hour practice. The last time more than 20 skaters and goaltenders were on the ice at one time was at training camp.
The San Jose-Anaheim quarterfinal match-up is a California hockey fan’s dream. The teams face each other at least six times in the regular season and are separated by just an hour-long flight between airports.
“We’re very familiar with Anaheim,” defenseman Rob Blake said. “They have a real good presence on defense with (Chris) Pronger, (Scott) Niedermayer and (Francois) Beauchemin back in the lineup and left wing Ryan) Getzlaf pushing them up front.”
And according to Blake, a 20-year- veteran who won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with Colorado, the Sharks and Ducks intrastate rivalry’s intensity will most likely match the emotions from the 50-plus year feud between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It creates more of a rivalry now that you meet in the playoffs,” Blake said. “There’s something very important there to win or to lose.”
Starting today and for the next two days, San Jose will be working hard to keep their power play, penalty kill, offensive attack and defensive schemes sharp. They’ll also have that much more time to review Anaheim’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I think preparation is a big part of postseason play,” center Joe Thornton
said. “Getting three days to get more familiar with special teams and individuals out there is beneficial for both teams.”
“Obviously we both know each other really well,” Captain Patrick Marleau
said. “We have to go over their tendencies and through videos and meetings, but it really comes down to how we play and how we execute.
“There’s a lot to take in and a lot of different scenarios in the game,” Marleau added. “But we’re going to try and go through all of them and learn from them so we’re ready for Game One.”
San Jose dominated the regular season series, winning four of six. Cheechoo played a big role in two of the wins. In the season opener on Oct. 9, he scored twice in San Jose’s 4-1 win. Then on April 5 at Honda Center, he scored the game-winning goal in the Sharks 3-2 come-from-behind win.
Starting Thursday, San Jose takes the path down Highway 16W (which stands for 16 wins to win the Stanley Cup). Few get to experience that thrill. Cheechoo and his teammates want to be part of that moment.
“A lot of us haven’t won the Cup,” Cheechoo said. “We want to know what it feels like. That’s something I crave.”
VLASICS' ASSIST MAKES SHARKS HISTORY
Winning the Presidents’ Trophy wasn’t the only historic accomplishment by the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.Marc-Edouard Vlasic
’s second period assist on Joe Pavelski
’s goal in the 4-3 loss at Los Angeles made him the fourth defenseman on the Sharks to reach 30 assists this season.
Vlasic (30), joined Dan Boyle
(41), Rob Blake (35) and Christian Ehrhoff (34) in this category. In addition, only three other National Hockey League teams have four defensemen who recorded 30-or-more assists in one season: the 1986-87 Calgary Flames and the Detroit Red Wings in 1992-93 and 1999-00.
“It would be nice to get that extra assist,” Vlasic said before Saturday’s game at Staples Center.
“A lot of those assists are coming off shots from the defense,” Pavelski said, “and they’re creating opportunities for us around the net.”
From Day One in training camp, Head Coach Todd McLellan wanted more involvement from the defense. Having four blue liners with 30-or-more assists is proof that this part of the plan has worked.
“We have great defensemen and they make great plays for us, so it’s easier for us to play offense,” left wing Milan Michalek said.
The Sharks set a franchise record in points from defenseman this season with 203. The previous best was 164, set in 1993-94. That season, Sandis Ozolinsh set the individual franchise record for points from a defenseman with 64.
Boyle’s 57 points this season are the most since Ozolinsh set the record and Blake’s 45 make him third on the list.
“Playing with Rob Blake has been pretty special,” Vlasic said of his defensive partner for most of the season. “He has so much experience.”
Boyle, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, said the Sharks, especially Vlasic and Ehrhoff, have adapted well to McLellan’s coaching strategy. In fact, Ehrhoff set career marks in assists (34) and points (42).
“They’ve done a good job of changing their game a little bit and playing more offensively,” Boyle said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
The fun will continue on Thursday as the No. 1-seeded Sharks play hosts to the No. 8-seeded Anaheim Ducks in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Ducks feature two of the League’s top defensemen in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
Anaheim strengthened their defense at the trade deadline by acquiring Ryan Whitney from Pittsburgh and James Wisniewski from Chicago. They’ll also have Francois Beauchemin back in the lineup. He returned for the last two games of the regular season after missing 62 games with a knee injury.
While Anaheim has four defensemen (Beauchemin, Niedermayer, Pronger and Bret Hedican) who’ve won a Stanley Cup, San Jose can counter with four of their own: Blake, Boyle, Brad Lukowich and Kent Huskins, who won his with Anaheim in 2007.
While experience helps, it’s what’s happening now that matters. And San Jose had the edge in this year’s season series, winning four of six.
Starting Thursday, everyone will find out if San Jose’s regular season edge carries over into the second season.