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Western Conference Semifinals Feels Like Déjà Vu

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
From left, San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton (19) Douglas Murray (3) and goalie Antti Niemi celebrate the 3-1 defeat of the Detroit Red Wings at the end of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
The San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings have become a full fledged rivalry over the years. They say the playoffs make for the most intense rivalries and this will be the third time in five years the two have tangled in the Western Conference Semifinal. This is the fifth time the clubs have met in postseason play, with each side claiming two series victories.

“We’ve had a long history in the playoffs with Detroit, so it’s always a fun matchup and it’s going to be a good series,” Captain Joe Thornton said.

“They’ve all been good series and good battles,” Patrick Marleau said. “I expect the same out of this one.”

Last year, San Jose proved their mettle to a lot of the hockey world by dispatching the Red Wings in five games of the Western Conference Semifinals, but nobody expects a repeat performance.

“From last year, we were so excited to get over the hump and get past these guys,” Devin Setoguchi said. “This year is definitely something that’s going to be totally different. They’re going to be prepared and focused. They’re going to want to beat us badly because we won last year. It’s exciting and it makes the games that much more intense.”

There’s a mutual respect on both sides of the ice, but nothing more than acknowledging a good adversary.

San Jose Sharks right wing Ryane Clowe (29) scores on Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
“We respect them as much as they respect us,” Setoguchi said. “You don’t want to show them too much respect. We’re both good hockey clubs. When we face each other, we expect a good game. We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us. It’s just a matter of who can execute the game plan better. We’re excited to get it ready to go and get another chance to play them.”

The talent level on both sides of the ice, combined with both having ample rest, will allow for both teams to be in peak form. Detroit hasn’t played since April 20 when they dispatched Phoenix in four games of their quarterfinal series.

“Regardless, the second round, it gets tougher,” Joe Pavelski said. “They’re rested. We’re rested. I think it’s going to be a pretty fast series and we have to do the little things right and stay detailed.”


There are numerous similarities between the two clubs and no one denies it starts on the coaching staff. Head Coach Todd McLellan and Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft arrived from the Motor City three seasons ago.

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan talks to his team during the closing seconds of the third period in an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
“There is no doubt that Jay and myself came from Detroit. They do a lot of things that we bought into and believe in that we wanted to institute here,” McLellan said.

San Jose’s players know they will be playing a mirror image of themselves to a degree.

“They do the same things,” Marleau said. “They have a little bit different personnel. Besides that they still have their core together. They move the puck really quick, tape-to-tape. It’s very similar to how we play.”

With so much the same, it might simply come down to who can do the tiniest of details better.

“You try to outlast them. We’re going to try and do some of the same things,” Pavelski said. “Every night you have to find ways. There are times in games when you have to step up and make plays and you have to shut the other team down at times. It’s who does that the best.”

Over McLellan’s three seasons in Silicon Valley, he has produced his own style within the system, so there are some subtle differences between the powerhouses.

“As time goes on, the game evolves, there are new trends and I think both teams have changed personnel and the way we do things,” McLellan said. “If you’re not staying ahead, pretty soon you fall behind. There are differences and probably markedly different from the first year.”


The Sharks have gone 7-2 in their last nine games with Detroit dating back to last year’s playoffs. There’s nothing in those numbers though that will allow the Sharks to think anything less about the Red Wings and presume success.

“It’s a completely different series,” McLellan said. “Different teams, different circumstances. If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year, we’ll sorely regret it. They’re a healthier team. They’re much more rested. I think they’ll have a revenge factor. There are a lot of things that will be different this year and our team has to be very cognizant of that.”

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) is congratulated by teammates after his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
“To beat them this year, we’re going to have to be a step better,” Pavelski said. “They’re a hungry team. They’re playing well. We’ll have to be on top of our game.”

What the winning numbers could provide is a bit of comfort in case things don’t start off ideally in a game. With this series, it’s likely both clubs will have periods where they can dictate play.

“You remember the good things, but they’re a totally different style team,” Thornton said. “We prepped a little bit this morning for them, but it’s going to be quite a different series. Probably a bigger test than the last series.”

“You can take a positive out of it,” Setoguchi said. “It could be more of a mental thing. If you lose a game, you know you have beaten these guys. As far as that number (7-2), you can throw it right out the window. It’s a new season.”

“For the most part it (the 7-2 record) does go out the window,” Ryane Clowe said. “We played pretty well against them in the regular season and beat them in five last year, but I think it’s a different situation. If anything we take some confidence. Detroit sometimes puts fear in teams because they are Detroit and they’ve been successful the past few years. The fact we’ve had a good record gives us a little confidence.”

The road club fared better in the Sharks-Kings quarerfinals series, but McLellan still prefers the comforts of home.

“We prefer to play in front of our fans,” McLellan said. “It’s a great environment. Does it guarantee you a win? The first round dictates it doesn’t. Now that we’re traveling through three different time zones, it’s nice to be home for the extra day, be in your own bed and have the extra practice in your own training facilities.”

The conference semifinal schedules will be announced at some point following the conclusion of the quarterfinals.
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