Hockey Night In Canada Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011

Canucks, Sharks focused on current task

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

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The Canucks hope the line of Alex Burrows left, Henrik Sedin, centre and his brother Daniel, right, can make a big impact in their series against the San Jose Sharks. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press) The Canucks hope the line of Alex Burrows left, Henrik Sedin, centre and his brother Daniel, right, can make a big impact in their series against the San Jose Sharks. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

By Tim Wharnsby

When the San Jose Sharks upended the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the second round a year ago, they were jubilant.

But the good feelings didn't last long. A week later, after four close games, the Sharks were swept in the West final by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.

This time around, after surviving a seven-game series against the Red Wings after they almost blew a 3-0 series lead, the Sharks believe they're better prepared for the conference final.

"Heading into the Chicago series, we were on a high," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We felt really good about what we accomplished, and we didn't win a game. I'm not sure that's indicative of the series. They were basically one-goal games. I thought we played well on many nights. We just got beat by a better team.

"This year we've now gone through it once. I don't sense quite as much a high in our locker room, if you will, after beating Detroit. The journey was much tougher this year. But we have to take that next test tonight and then go from there. I hope our team responds even better than it did last year against the Blackhawks."

The Canucks, meanwhile, survived the Blackhawks in the first round after Chicago eliminated Vancouver in the previous two playoffs. There may have been some of that similar euphoria with the Canucks than the Sharks had with their win over Detroit in 2010.

But now that the Canucks have slid past the Nashville Predators, in a series that saw the Presidents' Trophy winners score only 14 goals in six games, can they start fresh and play their best hockey of the post-season?

"Our biggest stat that we're most proud of is the number of wins we got so far, which is eight wins," Canucks forward Alex Burrows said. "We're looking for eight more.

"I think we're a pretty mature group in that locker room. We've approached games the same way all year long, that's one game at a time. I know it's cliché, but that's exactly how we approached things all year. I don't think that's going to change. Chicago series was great, Nashville, too. That's behind us now."

Special teams focus

With offensive players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle, the Sharks' power-play should be operating at a better rate than 13.7 per cent (8-for-36). But that's the situation through two rounds, and the Canucks penalty-killing unit hopes to continue their success in the conference final. It has gone 43-for-50 in 13 games, 20-for-21 in the previous round against the Predators.

"When you look at it from a numbers perspective, the 13 per cent, 14 per cent, wherever we're at, not very impressive," McLelland said. "When you look at the goals we scored? The power play, you have to be pretty pleased. It's won us some games, allowed us to move on.

"I'm a big believer that when you close a series and you move on, you start with fresh numbers. We're at zero or at a hundred. I don't know where you want to start us at. We have a huge challenge ahead of us, because they're a very good penalty-killing team, obviously the best in the league. We expect our power play to have an impact on the series."

Take a load off Manny

Even though he has been lost of the season with a serious eye injury, Canucks centre Manny Malhotra rejoined his teammates on the ice for some light workouts last week and spent plenty of time in the coaches room helping Alain Vigneault and his staff prepare for the Sharks.

Malhotra, of course, has some insider knowledge when it comes to San Jose because he played for the Sharks last season.

"We got good advice from Manny and Christian [Ehrhoff], both who played with San Jose, and this coaching staff," Vigneault said. "They shared with us obviously their tendency and what they like to do. We've come up with a plan, see how it works out."

Babies and birthdays

Vigneault celebrated his 50th birthday on Saturday, while San Jose defenceman Ian White raced from the rink after Game 7 on Thursday because his wife Tess went into labour. The couple's second child, daughter Gracelyn, was born at six pounds, 11 ounces at 7:16 a.m. on Friday.

"It's been great," White said. "It's been great, an exciting run just to be in the post-season. To cap it all off, having a little baby the other day, stressful day being a Game 7 and all, but to get the win, have a new addition to our family, it's quite remarkable."

No morning skates

Because of the early 5 p.m. PT start on Sunday (CBC, CBCSports.ca) to the series opener, the Canucks and Sharks elected not to skate on Sunday morning. But based on the practices on Saturday, here have been the line combinations for both teams:

San Jose (LW-C-RW)

Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi
Clowe-Couture-Heatley
Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood
Eager-Nichol-Ferriero

Vancouver (LW-C-RW)

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows
Raymond-Kesler-Higgins
Torres-Lapierre-Hansen
Glass-Hodgson-Oreskovich

On-ice officials for series opener

Referees will be Steve Kozari and Stephen Walkhom. Linesman are Greg Devorski and Jay Sharrers.