So much to love about tonight's game between the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET).
The stakes. The animosity. The potential history. And, let's face it, the possibility that these state rivals could meet again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as they did in 2009.
I think both teams are different from the way they were two years ago. But, at the core, these teams aren't that different. Both have improved their scoring depth. The Sharks have toughened up, but the Ducks have improved the depth of their defense. Goaltending is a question for both clubs. Niemi didn't emerge as the number 1 until the second half of the season, and Emery is beginning to look more and more solid with each game. Granted, Niemi has won a cup, but Emery was in the Finals. Sometimes you just need a little luck.
If the Ducks win on Wednesday then the season series will be tied at 3, and except for a 5-2 loss at the beginning of the season, all of them were essentially one goal games. It's hard to imagine a pair of teams that are as evenly matched. I don't know if the result will be the same, but a series would look a lot like it did in 2009.
Here are five reasons we'll be glued to Center Ice for this Pacific Division grudge match.
1. Joe Thornton Can Reach 1,000 Points
With a goal and an assist against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, Jumbo moved his career point total to 999, good for ninth among active players. (Jarome Iginla's right ahead of him at 1,001.) From Fear The Fin:
It would be nice if Thornton could grab his 1,000th point before the season ends, if only to avoid the unnecessary and equally predictable questions that would accompany a failure to do so. If Thornton has to wait until next season to get his 1,000th, you can be sure that it will be mentioned ad nauseum until the puck drops for the 2011-2012 season.
Thornton has always been one to receive undue blame for the teams' struggles, but it would be hard to criticize him after he just reached such an impressive career achievement. Well, at least until the Sharks drop a game in the playoffs. Then it's his fault again. The soothsayer in me predicts Thornton notches his 1,000th point tonight, coming off what else but his 695th career assist.
An assist that would move him within seven of Teemu Selanne on the active career assist list. Provided, you know, Teemu doesn't add to his total.
2. Todd McLellan Is On The Verge of a Somewhat Misleading Record
As David Pollak notes, the Sharks coach has a chance tonight to win his 152nd game behind the San Jose bench, which would "tie him with Mike Keenan for the NHL record for wins in a coach's first three seasons." Of course, Keenan set that record from 1984-87, during a time of 80-game seasons and (GASP!) tie games instead of skills competitions.
Also, he may have made at least four times as many grown men cry during those three years than McLellan has.
3. The Booing of, and Potential Retribution Against, Douglas Murray
Say, remember last time these two met? And by "these two," we mean Murray and Lubomir Visnovsky?
There was fear that Visnovsky, the Ducks' Norris-caliber defenseman, may have suffered a significant injury on the play. That fear was quelled when he returned the following night and scored a goal.
"Guys have always reacted to hits," Murray continued. "As far as talking about it in the media, it's a little bit more now. But as far as reacting when you have a big hit — especially to one of their top players — it's the same reaction as before. Before it was more settled on the ice. Like I've said before, I take hits when they come to me. I haven't gotten penalized yet, so I think I'm playing within the rules."
The fans will take notice of him; will the Ducks seek a little retribution? From OC Register columnist Jeff Miller:
"It's in the back of your mind, obviously," captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "But the two points are the most important thing for our group right now. The two points are our focus."
But then ...
"As the game progresses," Getzlaf added, "we'll see how it goes."
4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic Sorta Called George Parros a Coward
An offshoot of item No. 3: George Parros went after Vlasic in what was seen as retribution for the Murray hit. After the game, Vlasic said of Parros:
"If Jay (Jason Demers) was on that side, he would have went after Jay," Vlasic said. "The only guy he wouldn't have gone after was Douglas Murray."
So does that make Parros want to go after Murray or Vlasic more?
5. Finally, It's a Rather Important Game
From NHL.com, the skinny on tonight's playoff implications:
What's at stake: Anaheim will stay ahead of Chicago with a win but could finish the night in eighth with a loss and a Blackhawks win. San Jose is trying to stay ahead of Detroit for the second seed.
Keep in mind the Ducks finish the season with a home-and-home with the Kings, so a win here really set them up for what could be as high as a fifth place finish.
A loss ... well, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames are still knocking on the bubble.