April 13, 2010
The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, in all of their delicious glory. We'll be previewing each first-round series this week and providing you with a sugar rush through our poorly executed dessert porn theme. Check out all the previews to find out who takes the ... er, taco.
Now that the San Jose Sharks have unclenched their collective sphincter after potentially facing the Red Wings in Round 1, they can focus on something much less stressful: The dark abyss of their annually predicted postseason demise.
"Having the team they've had for the last four or five years and not going very far in the playoffs, I think we can use that to our advantage," Hejduk told the Denver Post on Sunday.
"If they're thinking that way, they're in trouble probably," he said. "It's more them trying to get any edge they can and get in our head a bit. It means no difference to us. You're in trouble if that's going to [affect] you."
Colorado is a huge underdog here, and the Sharks are looking to avoid another first-round flop at all costs. Coming up, our multilayered look at the Sharks and Avs.
San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (8)
Wednesday, April 14 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS (JIP)
Friday, April 16 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS (JIP)
Sunday, April 18 at Colorado, 9:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS (JIP)
Tuesday, April 20 at Colorado, 10:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS (JIP)
*Thursday, April 22 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS (JIP)
*Saturday, April 24 at Colorado, TBD CBC
*Monday, April 26 at San Jose, TBD CBC
* If Necessary/JIP: Joined in Progress
The Sharks had three forwards in the top 16 in scoring: Joe Thornton(notes) (89 points), Patrick Marleau(notes) (83 points) and Dany Heatley(notes) (82 points). Which is all fine and dandy and completely futile within the context of the playoffs, because Marleau has 62 points in 93 playoff games and Thornton ... well, is Thornton.
Heatley's addition helped move the pieces around the Sharks' lineup, and that'll help balance the offense in the postseason. Plus, he has 35 points in 34 playoff games, which is refreshingly different for a player in teal.
What makes the Sharks better than in recent years are the grunts. Like the third line that's been a kick in the ass for them recently: Manny Malhotra(notes), Torrey Mitchell(notes) and Logan Couture(notes). Malhotra was added last summer. Couture is a rookie. There's fresh blood in this lineup, and it's making a difference.
The Avalanche's forwards are speedy and aggressive, and showed an ability to disrupt in the attacking zone down the stretch. They've got balanced scoring, but not much of it, as the Avs didn't have a 30-goal guy on the roster.
Paul Stastny(notes) led the team with 79 points, playing a good amount of time with T.J. Galiardi(notes) (39 points) and Chris Stewart(notes) (64 points, second on the team). The healthy of Matt Duchene(notes) (55 points) and Peter Mueller(notes) (20 points in 15 games) is paramount for the Colorado attack.
Take The Cake, because they've got more impressive weapons and can match Colorado's grit.
The Sharks defense scored 37 goals and posted 172 points. The majority of them came from Dan Boyle(notes) (58 points, but only a plus-6) and Rob Blake(notes) (30 points, plus-14). Marc-Edouard Vlasic(notes) regressed a bit statistically. Douglas Murray(notes) played a career-high average of 20:20 and was a bit of a revelation this season. Kent Huskins(notes) played a solid 82 games for San Jose.
The Colorado defense scored 28 of the team's 244 goals on the season. Kyle Quincey(notes) was the ice time leader (23:36) ahead of Scott Hannan(notes). Expect Adam Foote(notes) to play north of 20 minutes against the Sharks. And probably make some kind of soul-crushing mistake in the process.
Takes The Cake. Deeper, more experienced and more explosive. Should be able to handle the Avalanche attack.
Evgeni Nabokov(notes) has been maligned as a goalie who can't win the big game in the postseason, despite a 2.23 GAA and a .915 save percentage during his playoff career (inflated by last season's 2.82 in the six-game loss to the Ducks).
Craig Anderson's(notes) NHL playoff history: Zero games. The number of games after the Olympic break in which he surrendered three or more goals: 14. Anderson's the reason the Avalanche are in the postseason; can he be the reason they win this series?
Takes The Cake. Sorry, but Anderson has to prove his playoff mettle before getting the nod here.
Your Slice of Sharks History:
The Sharks' power play was fourth in the NHL with 65 goals in 309 chances, as Dany Heatley netted 18 PPG. The Avalanche power play was 15th with 56 goals in 310 chances. Duchene (10 goals) and Stastny (9 goals) led the way.
The Sharks were fifth on the kill with an 85-percent conversion rate. Colorado was 21st at 80.2-percent. Both teams had eight shorties.
Takes The Cake. Again, too many weapons to ignore, and their kill has been impressive as well.
Trick Candles (The Agitators)
The Avs have a few veteran hands in the agitation department in Darcy Tucker and Adam Foote, but watch out for the physical game of Chris Stewart, who had 7 fights this season.
Takes The Cake. Darcy. Tucker. Fuggedaboudit.
Noted Baker Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network Says ...
"Eat up everyone, in honor of the Sharks getting past the first round. Doesn't it feel good in your mouth? What's everyone staring at?"
Cupcakes (Goat Factor)
Rightly or wrongly, the Sharks have become so synonymous with the playoff choke to the point where it's practically inferred when they enter the postseason. The regular seasons for Marleau, Thornton, Nabokov ... they'll all be rendered forgettable if they don't perform in the postseason.
Expectations being where they are for the Avs, it's hard to imagine there being a goat on the roster.
Takes The Cake, for the lower number of cupcakes.
The Baker (Coaching)
Todd McLellan has received votes of confidence throughout some rough stretches in the season, but the fact remains he hasn't won an NHL playoff series yet as a head coach.
But he has coached in one, which is more than can be said for rookie coach Joe Sacco. He's done well to energize and utilize his young roster; but can he win a playoff chess match?
Takes The Cake, even if neither coach has acquitted himself in the postseason.
Home Icing: (Home Ice Advantage)
The Sharks were 27-6-8 at the Tank, one of the best records in the NHL. Colorado wasn't bad at home, going 24-14-3; but they lost some critical games on home ice down the stretch (even with a win over the Sharks in Denver to their credit).
Takes The Cake in the Tank.
The Last Slice (Prediction)
Sharks in 5
The Avs are playing gutsy, aggressive hockey at the end of the season. That leads to at least one win against the Sharks, but it also leads to mistakes that get the Sharks out of the first round, so they can exhale.