Regular season series: Sharks won 4-2
Oct. 9:Ducks 1 at Sharks 4Oct. 17:at Ducks 4, Sharks 0Dec. 11:Ducks 0 at Sharks 2Mar. 15:at Ducks 0, Sharks 1Apr. 4:Ducks 5 at Sharks 2Apr. 5:at Ducks 2, Sharks 3
The Skinny: Some reward. The Sharks spend big to bolster their lineup with proven veterans like Rob Blake and Dan Boyle and battle their way to their first-ever Presidents' Trophy. And what do they get for their troubles? A first round date with an Anaheim squad that rolls into the playoffs on a scorching 10-2-1 roll. It's the sort of match-up that brings to mind the shattered dreams of the seven No. 1 teams that have been eliminated by the eight seed since 1994, along with the specter of their own history of playoff failures.
It's a tough draw, but it also has the potential to get their Cup-or-bust mission off on the right track. Nothing like taking down a hated rival in the first round to help build momentum.
The Sharks will be counting on their depth to quell the Ducks. While Anaheim relies heavily on Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Bobby Ryan -- arguably the league's most dangerous line -- San Jose has enviable depth that goes well beyond Joe Thornton and a resurgent Patrick Marleau. Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe bring speed and physicality to match their scoring touch, while veterans like Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux can keep the opposition honest on the ice, and calm their teammates off it.
The Ducks come into the series all loosey-goosey, blessed with Cup-winning experience and low expectations. They're not afraid to cede home ice to the Sharks after winning a franchise-record seven straight on the road to close the season. Nor are they intimidated by San Jose's second-ranked power play. Their own PP is on a bit of a tear, scoring 20 goals in their final 48 chances.
Their big question is goaltending. Jonas Hiller assumed the starter's role down the stretch, handing Conn Smythe winner J-S Giguere a ball cap and a spot on the bench. While Hiller's numbers are hard to deny (he finished with seven straight wins, and a solid 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage), he's never had a sniff of postseason action. That could be all the advantage the Sharks need.
Spotlight's On: Joe Thornton. There are several Sharks who've been tagged as playoff underachievers, but none with the pedigree of Thornton. It's not that he's been shooting blanks (5-25-30 in 35 postseason games with San Jose), it's that his size, strength and insistence on staying on the fringes of the fray leaves the impression that he could be doing so much more. He's heard the criticism. Let's see if he's willing to pay the price to help shed that tag.
X-Factor for Sharks: Travis Moen. If there was one quality the Sharks lacked in previous playoff failures, it was the ability to match the physical intensity of their opposition. Moen, acquired at the deadline from the Ducks, will be counted on to help set the tone. Though he'll be used primarily in a depth role, Todd McLellan could insert him on a scoring line to amp up the energy level.
X-Factor for Ducks: Francois Beauchemin. Returning to action for the season's final two games, Beauchemin looked pretty much like a player who'd been sidelined since Nov. 14. His surgically repaired ACL held up, though. Now it's just a matter of getting his conditioning and timing back. The Ducks' blueline will be considerably more formidable if they can count on his big shot and snarling presence for 25 minutes a night.
The Pick: Sharks in seven
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