ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Although the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks both have been regular Stanley Cup playoff participants for the past 15 years, the California rivals somehow met in the postseason only once before this week.
That first-round series in 2009 provided valuable lessons to the veterans remaining in both dressing rooms. The eighth-seeded Ducks eliminated the top-seeded Sharks in six tempestuous games culminating in the Ducks’ clinching home victory, which began with Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton dropping the gloves on the opening faceoff.
Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin are still around in Anaheim, while Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski are still in teal. When they drop the puck on another first-round meeting Thursday night at Honda Center, the veterans from both clubs will keep in mind what they’ve learned from many years of the playoff grind.
“We would have liked to probably handle that series a little better,” recalled Pavelski, now the Sharks’ captain. “We were great in the regular season. Just never really got it going. This group understands we want to get off to a good start. If you get that first goal under your belt and play with the lead, more often than not it puts that other team under a little bit of pressure.”
Much has changed for both teams in the ensuing nine years, but this rivalry hasn’t cooled much. Getzlaf and Perry are still seeking their first Stanley Cup since 2007, while the Sharks are still waiting to raise it for the first time.
The 38-year-old Thornton is still in teal, but his right knee injury seems likely to keep him out for the first round. Anaheim has its own injury woes headlined by the shoulder problem of top defenseman Cam Fowler, who is expected to miss the series.
Here are more things to watch in the eighth playoff series between California teams in NHL history:
OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS?: The series opens in Orange County because of a tremendous late-season surge by the Ducks, who won their final five games to slide in front of San Jose for second place in the Pacific Division. Anaheim overcame its early-season injury problems and the late-season absence of goalie John Gibson to finish with 101 points to San Jose’s 100. The Sharks lost five of their final six regular-season games and gave away home-ice advantage on the final day of the regular season. Home ice typically doesn’t mean much in the postseason, but the Ducks have lost in regulation at Honda Center just once in 17 games since Jan. 23.
KANE’S CHANCE: Evander Kane provided a big spark for San Jose after being acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline with nine goals and five assists in 17 games. Kane’s reward for his strong play is his first trip to the playoffs nine seasons into his career. Kane never got a shot at the postseason with Atlanta, Winnipeg or Buffalo, but believes his style of play is conducive to this time of year.
“I’ve said it in the past: I think I’m a playoff player,” he said. “I’ve watched the playoffs and when I look at the style of play and it’s something I was jealous because I wasn’t involved in it. Now I get that opportunity and I have to back those words up.”
SCORING D: Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has put a priority on getting offense from their defense and it paid off this season with San Jose ranking third in the NHL with 199 points from the blue line. The offense didn’t just come from last year’s Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, with a team record five defensemen in all scoring at least 20 points, including a career-high 33 points from Justin Braun and a career-best 11 goals from Vlasic.
“I don’t know what it is. He’s been preaching it for a few years but this year I think we really took hold of it a little bit more,” Braun said.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Sharks power-play has been a bit of a roller coaster this season. San Jose converted just 14.5 percent of its chances with the man advantage over the first 18 games before things started to click. The Sharks scored on 28.9 percent of their chances over the next 29 games before falling back into a rut after Thornton injured his knee. The power play slumped late in the year, converting at a rate of 16.5 percent over the last 35 games. The penalty kill was much more consistent, ranking second in the league at 84.8 percent for the season.
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in San Jose contributed to this report.
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