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Sharks Prepare to Sacrifice Everything

by Ross McKeon / sjsharks.com

As the Sharks venture into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons, they prepare for the game's freshest superstar and a familiar face behind the opposing bench.

League scoring champ Connor McDavid ushers in a new era of Edmonton Oilers hockey with former San Jose bench boss Todd McLellan changing the lines. And while this is old hat for San Jose - a 19th playoff appearance in 25 seasons - Edmonton is back playing meaningful springtime hockey for the first time since losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to Carolina in 2006.

That's a 10-year playoff drought for the team that hails from the self-proclaimed City of Champions.

What does it all mean to the San Jose Sharks? Joe Pavelski sums it up like this. "At the end of the day, I don't care how well you know your opponent, it comes down to a shift-by-shift thing," the team captain said. "It's commitment. You've got to be willing to sacrifice to win. It doesn't matter who you're playing. If we go in with that mindset it gives us a chance."

While their opponent might be counting on youthful exuberance, the Sharks are a deep and veteran team regardless of their pending health issues. Both Logan Couture and Joe Thornton skated on Monday. And while they respectively missed the final seven and three games to end the regular season, no one questions their determination to return as soon as possible. McLellan, for one, has a pretty strong opinion on the matter.

"Those two are going to play in the playoffs. I know that," the Oilers' coach said after the two teams met on April 6 in San Jose. "They'll be in the lineup, and there's nobody who's going to keep those two out."

The Sharks began their preparation in earnest on Monday with an hour-plus long skate that featured Couture skating between wingers Pavelski and Melker Karlsson. Thornton skated for approximately half of the practice, but didn't figure into the line combinations. All of the regulars held out of the team's final regular-season game on Saturday - forwards Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward, Pavelski and defenseman Justin Braun - were all back on the ice on Monday.

"It's good to see. All those guys were moving a little better out there today," said Pavelski, before turning his thoughts to the possibility of playing alongside Couture. "Last year we had a few games together. It's nice we've been on the power play for the last 6-7 years. We'll go from there. Obviously 5-on-5 is different. I've always liked his game. He makes players better, and always works hard. It's an honest game from him. Those are definitely players you can play with."

While Thornton and Pavelski have been nearly inseparable as linemates with different skaters joining the duo on left wing, DeBoer may look to try something different at the outset of the best-of-seven set against Edmonton. The Oilers won the last three regular-season meetings between the two after the Sharks won in regulation and overtime in the first two contests.

"Maybe (it) makes us a little more aware of what we need to do," Pavelski said of recent results. "We didn't win those games. We played well at times, but they found ways to get the job done on the penalty kill, the power play and 5-on-5. We've got to be better and hopefully it's a wake-up call."

Typically teams are more concerned about their game than what the opponents are doing. To that end, the Sharks look to rely on what worked for most the regular season and during last year's postseason run to the Stanley Cup Final - defense, timely special teams' play and a team effort that is more a sum of their parts as opposed to focusing on one single individual.

"We're not changing our formula because we're playing Connor McDavid or because we're playing the Edmonton Oilers," DeBoer said. "We know how to handle good players and that's on us to get the job done."

"You've got to focus on your own game and on what you do well," Pavelski echoed. McDavid finished the regular season on a 14-game scoring streak. With 30 goals and 70 assists, the 20-year-old was the only NHLer to reach the century mark in points. He had 11 more than Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby. And McDavid figured in 40.4 percent of Edmonton's Pacific-leading 247 goals.

"We're talking about him like I'm sure they're talking about Brent Burns," DeBoer suggested. "Those guys are difference makers in the game."

The odds-on favorite to win the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, Burns followed up a career year last year with another one this year by logging franchise -best totals in goals (29) and points (76) for a blue liner. Burns also led the league in shots on goal with 320.

Where the Sharks also excel, and what might give them a distinct advantage in a long series, is depth. It's been especially noticeable at the forward position as rookies Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Timo Meier and Danny O'Regan have all added speed and energy when they've been given an opportunity.

It's a playoff cliché, but when top lines neutralize each other, often its the support players who can make the difference in the end.

"You want your third and fourth lines to be factors," Sharks center Chris Tierney said. "There's two pretty good top lines on each team right now, and they'll probably cancel each other out. It's going to be on the depth guys to step up and help out. It's exciting. You want to be that guy. You want to help the team any way you can. I'm looking forward to it.

"We've got a really deep team, and who ever is out there on the third and fourth lines is a really good player," he added. "We're confident in our group, confident in our depth guys that we can get the job done."

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