During the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, San Jose Sharks Coach Todd McLellan said there was "ultimate respect" between his club and the Detroit Red Wings, rather than hatred.
It's an interesting, accurate description. The Red Wings have been the Western Conference measuring stick for roughly 15 years. The Sharks, so desperate to break through as a championship team, respected Detroit so much that they hired McLellan away from the right hand of The Babcock as their coach in 2008.
Every system, gameplan, tenet and philosophy from the Red Wings came with him; pretty much the only thing he didn't borrow from Detroit was Al Sobotka, and that's probably only because of the hazards inherent to twirling a dead shark. Henrik Zetterberg has called games against San Jose "like intrasquad games."
Since that hiring, San Jose has earned respect, if not championship success. The student has bested the teacher, and the Sharks have fairly dominated this rivalry.
Under McLellan, San Jose is 14-9-1 against Detroit in the regular season and the playoffs, eliminating them from the postseason in 2010 (five games) and memorably in 2011 (seven games). This success follows a streak in which the Sharks won only 16 times in 63 games against the Red Wings, according to the Mercury News.
The average final score in their victories under McLellan against the Wings: 3.57 goals to 2.29. The average final score in their losses: 4.56 goals for Detroit to 1.67 for the Sharks. (That includes to outliers: 7-1 in the playoffs and a 6-0 regular-season win in 2008-09.)
The two Western Conference titans meet for the first time on Friday night. Goalie Jimmy Howard is back for Detroit, which lost two games with a combined score of 11-2 without him. San Jose comes blazing in on a three-game winning streak.
Overconfident against a team they've figured out? Not us, say the Sharks. Via David Pollak:
As soon as you think there's a little carry-over, your game slips a little bit and all of a sudden it's 5-1," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "I think they probably feel the same way. It's about re-establishing your game every night."
Defenseman Dan Boyle calls past victories a nonfactor.
"It's the Detroit Red Wings. It's been the best, most successful franchise of the last 20 years," he said. "We've beaten them in the last two playoffs, but the only thing that does is give them more incentive to get up to play against us. That just makes them that much harder."
One added bit 'o fun tonight: Ian White, who wasn't re-signed by the Sharks and then signed with the Red Wings, plays against his former mates. If you haven't heard the one about the journeyman defenseman whose wife went into labor the morning of a Game 7, read White's tale here.