Sharks Facing Shocking Ouster
Suddenly, the Anaheim Ducks look like the Ducks that just two years ago won a Stanley Cup championship.
And the biggest beneficiaries of that, aside from the Orange County hockey heroes themselves, might be the Vancouver Canucks.
(Ed. Note: Check out the extra playoff mail bag at the bottom of today's blog. You keep 'em coming, we'll try to answer them more often throughout the post-season)
|The playoffs just don't agree with Joe Thornton.|
Anaheim again stunned the NHL's best team during the regular season, the San Jose Sharks, last night, jumping ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series with three of the next four games slated to be played in the Ducks home rink.
That puts Randy Carlyle's group in the drivers seat, and if they can close the deal against Joe Thornton and Co., it would change the Western Conference playoff picture rather dramatically.
With Detroit up 2-0 on Columbus and Vancouver ahead 3-0 on St. Louis, an Anaheim victory over the Sharks would likely mean a second round meeting between the Red Wings and Ducks, with the Canucks to take on the winner of Chicago-Calgary.
That would mean that Vancouver, at least in theory, could make it all the way to the conference final without first having to play either San Jose or Detroit, a scenario that didn't look likely heading into post-season play.
Anaheim beat San Jose 3-2 last night on another terrific goaltending performance by youngster Jonas Hiller, who has stopped 77 of 79 Sharks shots in the first two games of the series. Goals by grinders Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller put the Ducks over the top in the third, wrecking what might have been a dramatic playoff story for 43-year-old Claude Lemieux, who skated in his first playoff game in six years in a losing cause.
But arguably the most noteworthy part of the Anaheim win was the dominance of captain Scott Niedermayer on the back end. Niedermayer assisted on the winning goal by Miller, and while he was later victimized on a nice solo goal by Jonathan Cheechoo that brought the Sharks to within a goal, he once again is looking like the superb, game-changing defenceman he was before taking a half-season off last year and never quite regaining his old form.
Niedermayer skated almost 27 minutes in the victory with his usual effortless stride, and based on his play would have to be a prime candidate for a position on the Canadian Olympic team next winter in his home province of British Columbia. With Chris Pronger trade rumours gone for the moment and Francois Beauchemin back from knee surgery, the Ducks have their Big Three back together on the blueline and playing well.
San Jose coach Todd MacLellan tried to mix things up by taking Thornton off the the line with Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, reuniting him with Cheechoo, his old trigger man. Thornton had some moments and picked up an assist on Cheechoo's goal, but if the Sharks go down early again he's going to feel the heat for their departure from post-season play.
Marleau and Setoguchi skated with Travis Moen and were average at best for a Sharks team that had the best record in the NHL this season but knew all along it would be judged on how it fared in post-season play.
Former head coach Ron Wilson took the hit for the team's playoff failures last spring, but if the club suffers through another spring disappointment it would be hard to imagine both Thornton and Marleau would be back next fall. GM Doug Wilson might be under some heat, as well.
But maybe that's not giving the Ducks enough credit. GM Bob Murray, who took over from the departed Brian Burke in December, made some aggressive moves before and at the deadline including shipping winger Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh for defenceman Ryan Whitney and then moving veteran checkers Moen and Sammy Pahlsson. Hiller, meanwhile, has taken over from J.S. Giguere as the No. 1 goalie, the top line of Ryan Getzlaf between Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan is among the best in the sport right now and all the moves have come together in the past few weeks to suddenly make the Ducks look very dangerous indeed.
They're poised to record a rare No. 8 seed over No. 1 seed victory. If they do that, they could prove capable of much, much more.
During the playoffs, Damien Cox is answering your questions daily. Click here to submit a question.
**Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Damien. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**
Q: I was watching one of those playoff preview shows and when they showed captains with the Stanley Cup there was Roberto Luongo with the Cup. It would be a different sight to see a goalie accept the Cup from Gary. Something different like seeing Jose Theodore wearing the toque for Montreal for the outdoor classic. Do you have any unusual similiar sights you have seen over the years, that you normally would not expect to see?
Keith Kerfoot, Aberfoyle
A: Well, there was that time wayyyyy back in 1967. . .
I think the one many remember is when Calgary won the Cup in 1989, they had several players in their civvies accepting the trophy who were leaders and assistant captains but also healthy scratches in the final game. The group included Jim Peplinski and Tim Hunter, I believe, and the Flames valued their leadership so much that they wanted these guys front and centre at the end, even if they were in street clothes.
In recent years, teams have started having their spares and extra players don their full hockey equipment and join in the celebration of the Cup when the final series ends. I know Anaheim and Detroit did that the last two years. Finally, I don't think anyone will ever forget watching Scotty Bowman, after his last Cup title, put skates on so he could experience the feeling of skating with the Cup in his arms before he packed it in as an active coach. That was special.
Q: Hey Damien, Loving your work. Firstly, given the current expectations of teams in the NHL (i.e. Detroit, San Jose etc...) what is the main matchup that the NHL is looking for going into the Stanley Cup finals. I understand revenue is important and Chicago vs. Montreal (though not gonna happen) would be a dream in terms of television and sales. However, is the NHL secretly hoping teams like St. Louis, Columbus, Washington go far into the playoffs? It might mean a drop in large market viewership but it would help increase the NHL in these markets long term.
Mario Garisto, Toronto
A: Maybe I'm naive, but I really don't think Gary Bettman and Co. sit around hoping for this matchup or that matchup. Every team that makes it to the final brings benefits, some more than others. I would imagine in an ideal world you'd always have one of the big market clubs - Montreal, Philly, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Los Angeles - involved just to garner some attention in major media centres. To me, last year's matchup between Detroit and Pittsburgh, putting aside of course my general preference for Canadian-based clubs, was just about perfect.
Q: Would it be legal for Brian Burke to trade assets/picks/players to the six teams above him in exchange for them not drafting Tavares? Personally, I would rather see him go 1st overall because he is Canadian and would be the 4th Knight to go first overall (which i think is a record).
David Doner, London Ont.
A: Sure, but they'd have to be hockey trades the league could live with. For example, when Brian Burke made a series of deals with Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Chicago to land the Sedin twins in 1999, part of the deal with Atlanta was that the Thrashers would select Patrik Stefan first overall. I think it would be impossible, however, to do this with six teams, if only because the Leafs don't have enough assets to pull it off.
Q: While watching the Flyers and the Pens (opening) night, and pulling for the Flyers, I saw Scott Hartnell stick his knee out on a Pen, a couple of weeks ago when the Wings played the Flyers he did the same thing, some years ago when he played for Nashville he injured Jiri fischer and a couple of years down the road Niklas Kronwall. Both of whom needed a knee operation. My question is when is the NHL going to wake up and notice this cheap stuff? I am sure there were Eastern Conference games that I did not get to see where he has done this to others.
William Beaudoin, Rochester Hills, MI
A: Oh, I think the league notices. But sometimes the incidents are anything but black and white. That said, Hartnell is a guy the league keeps an eye on. He's got a reputation.