Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Canucks bigger litmus test for Sharks

Categories: San Jose Sharks, VAN vs. SJS, Vancouver Canucks

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Goalie Antti Niemi gives the Sharks a player with Stanley Cup final experience. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press) Goalie Antti Niemi gives the Sharks a player with Stanley Cup final experience. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

The opening game of the Western Conference final cannot start soon enough for any of the participants, if only to verify San Jose coach Todd McLellan's assertion that "experience starts after Game 1."

Much of Sunday morning's pregame blather linked to San Jose's experience in last year's conference final - all four games of it. The Sharks were swept by Chicago after beating the seemingly indomitable Detroit Red Wings in five games, and as McLellan ruefully noted: "All the games were close, but they were the better team."

But in this series, San Jose's first in four years as a lower seed, having gone four more games than the Canucks a year ago has only limited benefit.

"Always when you go back in time, you can get that," McLellan said, referencing the four consecutive losses they endured in last year's conference final to Chicago. "You guys'll go back to 1984 [actually, 1982 for the first Vancouver Stanley Cup final], and half their team hadn't been borne yet (actually, most of it, which we'll get to in a moment), but it's different now. Sixty-five per cent of our team wasn't [in last year's conference final]. Experience starts after Game 1."

In fact, San Jose's experience level is higher than that, if you decide that Antti Niemi and Ben Eager got experience being on the winning side. If that is so, the Sharks actually have only 20 per cent of their roster as untested players - defenceman Ian White, and wings Kyle Wellwood, Benn Ferriero and Jamal Mayers.

McLellan's greater point, that experience is a fleeting advantage even more ethereal than just last year's sweep would indicate. In fact, he suggests that the real litmus test here is not in the third round, but the second - and the Detroit Red Wings.

"Detroit has had a large impact on a lot of teams," he said. "Our style, the building of the team, I believe it's affected our team. And I think it's affected what Vancouver has done as well. I think they're built a little differently, they're a little stronger [than the Red Wings], they'll run through you a little more ... Detroit protects the puck very well, but basically our power play and penalty kills are similar, and we approach the game the same way."

In short, they win. Now we'll see who which of them wins a little bit more.

Sharks' expected lineup

Patrick Marleau  Joe Thornton  Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe  Logan Couture  Dany Heatley
Torrey Mitchell Joe Pavelski  Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager  Scott Nichol  Benn Ferriero

Douglas Murray  Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic  Jason Demers
Ian White  Niclas Wallin

Antti Niemi
Antero Niittymaki