It’s the NHL playoffs, which means the Battle of California is on once again. The Anaheim Ducks will face the San Jose Sharks in the first round and these two teams are certainly familiar.
Game One of the series is on Thursday.
The Sharks made it to the Cup Final just two years ago, facing down the Kings, Predators and Blues along the way. Last season, they fell to the surging Oilers. Times have changed.
This season, the Sharks have made their way to the post-season without much fanfare. That’s for good reason, as San Jose has won just once in their last six games. They’re still fifth overall in goal-scoring since March 1 and they made some hay at the trade deadline by adding Evander Kane, so there’s a lot to like if you’re a Sharks fan.
What’s more, Jumbo Joe Thornton could be back in the fold sometime soon. He’s started skating again and that’s incredibly good news.
The Ducks have weathered adversity all season long, working through over 300 man-games lost to injury. They still finished second in the division, but goalie John Gibson has been out. He may be back in time for the first game of the series, but nothing’s set in stone.
Luckily, the Ducks have received good goaltending from backup Ryan Miller. He’s a playoff-tested netminder, although he hasn’t seen the dance since 2015, and his numbers are fine. Gibson had the best save percentage of any goalie with at least 102 games played over the last three seasons, but who’s counting now?
The Sharks hope they’ll be counting up the goals against the Ducks and they have been putting the puck in the net. They started slow in scoring even-strength goals (like the Penguins), but they’ve picked up the pace since January 1 and are in the upper half of the league in goals for.
San Jose’s penalty kill is second-best in the NHL and that should mitigate Anaheim’s not-good power play, which sits at 23rd overall at just 17.8 percent.
The two clubs are really, really close when it comes to faceoffs and that’ll help produce some interesting matchups at the dot. It’ll also set the tone for the series, which should be one of heavy hitting and puck possession.
Speaking of matchups, Ryan Getzlaf will once again draw the tough assignments. He’s was shut down by Nashville in last season’s post-season, so redemption will be on his mind this time around. The Sharks will match hard against him, especially if they can pull Thornton’s beard hard enough to yank him back into the system.
This is a close one and it should be a good one, especially if you like physical, big hockey. Both clubs play with a mean streak and both clubs take a few liberties. It could come down to one goal or one mistake or one missed opportunity.