Anaheim at San Jose, Western Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 10:30 p.m. EDT
SAN JOSE, California (AP) -- California's hockey fans -- yes,
they exist, and yes, they know which end of a Zamboni is up --
haven't seen a playoff series between two native teams since
The San Jose Sharks' upcoming meeting with the Anaheim Ducks
just might turn out to be worth the wait.
This long-simmering rivalry finally should reach a full boil
when the NHL's best regular-season team from Silicon Valley
takes on the still-vital core of Orange County's 2007 Stanley
Cup champions in Game 1 Thursday night at the Shark Tank.
Except for its pedestrian first-round setting, every element
seems in place to produce a series that could become a landmark
in the history of two relatively young franchises.
"It's great to get to play for California, NorCal versus SoCal,"
Sharks All-Star Joe Thornton said. "Now that's fun. That's a
From Montreal-Boston to Colorado-Detroit and several stops in
between, Claude Lemieux has been in the thick of the NHL's
stormiest rivalries since several players on both teams were
toddlers -- and the 43-year-old San Jose forward sees a beauty
brewing off the West Coast.
"The way I've seen it develop in the past is against teams
nearby, and it happens when you play each other several times in
a row," Lemieux said. "And the playoffs is always the fire that
ignites the rivalry."
For starters, the Sharks and Ducks calmly detest each other in
the way only neighbors can. Several years of cheap shots and
contentious regular-season games peaked last month when Sharks
goalie Evgeni Nabokov and Ducks star Corey Perry accused each
other of dirty play, leading to three brutal late-season games
and ending with an after-the-buzzer scrum featuring 64 penalty
minutes in Anaheim.
Hockey players don't usually talk about that sort of motivation,
but it should become obvious in Game 1 -- particularly if both
teams dress their respective enforcers, San Jose's Jody Shelley
and Anaheim's George Parros.
"Anyone you're going to play in the playoffs, you're going to
have bad blood against," Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. "It's
not a certain team, it's just the mentality of the whole
situation. Everyone is fighting for their lives now."
Not much is similar about the Sharks and Ducks except their
driver's licenses. The franchises have dissimilar styles of
play, and they're built and coached by people with divergent
views about how hockey should be played.
Although the Sharks say they've sharpened their toughness this
season under new coach Todd McLellan on the way to the
Presidents' Trophy with 117 points, they're still at their best
when showing off their speed and offensive skill, from
Thornton's passing to Patrick Marleau's finishing skills.
"They were the best team in the league this year," Ducks goalie
Jonas Hiller said. "They have a great offense, and they play
well on defense. They are a great team, but I think we proved we
could play with them. They were always tight games and we won
some of them. So I think we have a chance."
And while the Ducks have one of the NHL's most sublimely
talented scoring lines with Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan,
they still identify themselves as a lunch-pail team stocked with
hard workers and role players surrounding that top line and
defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
"I don't think Anaheim is going to change the way Anaheim plays,
and I know we're not," said Marleau, who scored a career-high 38
goals with a plus-16 rating. "The more you play a team, that's
where you get the hard feelings, but you can't have an all-out
brawl when you play (the Ducks). You've got to take that punch
in the head in order to get the winning goal on the power play."
While San Jose slowed down late in the best regular season in
franchise history, the Ducks had to scrap just to make the
playoffs. They almost seemed out of the race at the trade
deadline, when they shipped defensive-minded forward Travis Moen
and defenseman Kent Huskins to San Jose in a move they might
regret if Moen plays a role in shutting down Anaheim's scorers.
"We've played them three times, so I'm not feeling weird about
it," Moen said. "I'll always be proud of what we did to win the
Stanley Cup, but now I'm trying to do it again."
Statistically, the series is a mismatch. San Jose scored more
goals and allowed fewer than the Ducks; had a better power play
and better penalty-killers; and finished 26 points ahead of
Anaheim atop the Pacific Division.
But nobody on either bench will care about statistics when
bragging rights in California are decided.
"We've been in playoff mode for the last month, that's good,"
said Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, who always gets booed every
time he touches the puck at the Shark Tank. "It's hard to turn
it on and off. We've got to push the gas down even harder now,
put our heads down, and try to plow through some tough games,
hopefully make a run at it."