He may not have received a point on the scoreboard for any of his big hits during the Nashville series, but the threat of a head-on collision with the six-foot-four, 225-pounder kept several Predators from scoring on the rush.
In Music City during Game 2, McLaren set his sights on a Predators player streaking down the wing. When McLaren quickly closed in for a hip check, the Nashville forwards bailed out on the play. McLaren only collided with the boards. The Predator forward had avoided a bone-crushing hit, but in the process, allowed the puck to move forward for McLaren’s defensive partner to reclaim.
“It’s good to see,” said center Mark Smith. “The more you are hit, the less you want to spend in our end. It helps the forwards.”
Game 4 in San Jose proved to be McLaren’s shining moment in the postseason. This time when Nashville came in on the attack, the big blueliner’s target attempted to squeeze through along the boards. Big mistake. McLaren connected like a rifleman at target practice and once again, a Nashville scoring opportunity was eliminated.
This time however, another scoring opportunity occurred, but it was San Jose’s. Patrick Marleau
seized the opportunity to turn the play on the other end into the game-winning goal. McLaren didn’t get an assist, but everyone in the building knew how the play began.
In Game 5 back in Nashville, with the Predators attempting to rally and force Game 6, McLaren again came through with a patented check along the boards, serving notice to all around that there is a price to pay when he is on the ice.
“That is huge,” said defenseman Josh Gorges. “Usually there is a turnover and we get possession. It’s the same as a goalie making a big save. It lifts up the spirits on the bench and gives you a little life and energy.”
“There are only so many of those you can take,” said Smith. “You feel those from your chin to your toes. You take a couple of hits like that and it is always in the back of your mind coming down the boards.”
The open ice hit is not for everyone.
“It’s not something every player can do,” said Gorges. “Every player has a different set of skills and some just know how to hit. You have it or you don’t.
When the Calgary-Anaheim (6 p.m., OLN) series concludes with tonight’s Game 7, the Sharks will know their Round 2 opponent. A Flames victory will bring Colorado to San Jose and an Anaheim victory will bring Edmonton to Silicon Valley. Either way, the Sharks players are excited to have home ice advantage.
“Home ice is nice, but you still want to be able to win on the road,” said Josh Gorges. “This is a tough place to come in and play. We play well at home.”
Team Teal is not as concerned with who the opponent is.
“Every team that has moved on is confident,” said left wing Scott Thornton. “Right now, we’re just looking forward to getting started.”
“We’ll be watching like fans tonight, hoping for a good Game 7,” said Coach Ron Wilson. “It should be fun.”
By the time the Sharks will play Game 1 of the conference semifinals, they would’ve gone almost an entire week without a game. That is a slight change from the lat two months when they played virtually every other day. Wilson gave the team the past two days off.
“You can never have too much rest,” said Gorges. “You want to keep playing and the rest is good. It gives guys a change to heal and to be 100 percent.”
“It was actually fun to practice,” said goaltender Vesa Toskala. “We played so many games the past two months that there was no time to practice like that.”
“We won’t lose momentum,” said Wilson. “In 2004, we won the first series in five games, had a layoff, and took a 3-0 lead in the next series.”
Along with Sharks fans, the players will be tuning in to see who their next opponent will be.
“I’ll probably go to dinner with some of the guys where the game will be on,” said Gorges.
Whether it is Edmonton or Colorado, San Jose will face a netminder they haven’t seen much of this year. They faced Edmonton’s Dwayne Roloson just once and did not play against Colorado’s Jose Theodore this season.
“We didn’t see much of Theodore or Roloson,” said defenseman Tom Preissing.
“The coaches do a scouting report and we read it, but sometimes you are better just seeing what you’re given,” said center Patrick Marleau
If Anaheim prevails tonight, it will mark the first time the all four lower seeds prevailed in the Conference Quarterfinals. In the East, every top seed advanced.
“The teams prevailing were not even being predicted for the playoffs with two months left. Edmonton, Colorado and we were playing playoff hockey for two months,” said Joe Thornton
In the East, the top teams were still very motivated to gain points while out West, Detroit was comfortably ahead of the Dallas and the Stars were comfortably ahead of third place Calgary.
“In the East, Ottawa and Carolina were battling until the final game for first overall,” said Wilson. “In our conference, Detroit had nothing to play for the last two to three weeks.”
The Sharks opening goal in Game 5 has officially been changed. The original ruling was that Milan Michalek’s shot was redirected by Steve Bernier. However, after further review and Bernier saying is was Michalek’s goal because he never touched it, the official change has been made.
With a sellout crowd of 19,289 expected at Pengrowth Saddledome tonight for Game 7 of the Calgary Flames-Anaheim Mighty Ducks series, the NHL will post record attendance for the opening round of the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A per-game average of 18,785 fans attended the 43 games in the Conference Quarterfinals through Tuesday, eclipsing the previous high of 18,770 set in 2004. Tonight's expected sellout will boost this year's opening-round figure.
The National Hockey League will announce the three finalists for each of eight annual trophies on Thursday, May 4, at 10 p.m., PST.
The trophies are:
* Calder Memorial Trophy (Outstanding Rookie)
* Frank J. Selke Trophy (Outstanding Defensive Forward)
* Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player To His Team)
* Jack Adams Award (Outstanding Coach)
* James Norris Memorial Trophy (Outstanding All-Around Defenseman)
* Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship and Gentlemanly Conduct)
* Lester B. Pearson Award (Most Outstanding Player as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association)
* Vezina Trophy (Outstanding Goaltender)
The winners will be announced Thursday, June 22 at the 2006 NHL Awards Television Special in Vancouver.