SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Detroit Red Wings team that will take the ice in San Jose for a second-round playoff series is very similar to the group that lost to the Sharks in five games at this stage a year ago.
There’s one major difference.
Instead of being drained by a seven-game, first-round series like they were a year ago, the Red Wings begin this series well rested and extremely healthy after sweeping Phoenix in the opening round.
“It’s a completely different series, different teams, different circumstances,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “If we fall into that trap of looking back to last year we’ll sorely regret it. They’re a healthier team they’re much more rested. They’ll have a revenge factor. There’s a lot of things that will be different this year. Our team will have to be very cognizant of that.”
Both teams are well aware of the difference a year makes. Last year, the Red Wings won a Game 7 in Arizona and flew that night to San Jose. They took one day off to rest before starting a series against a rested Sharks team.
San Jose won three straight one-goal games to open the series, overcoming third period deficits in the last two wins and went on to win the series in five games.
“It was tough,” defenceman Brad Stuart said. “You go from an emotional seven-game victory, one day off and you’re right back at it. We just got behind the eight ball a bit and never caught up. You never want to admit it, but we were a little fatigued from everything. It’s nice to come in fresher this time.”
The Red Wings finished off the first round April 20, giving then eight full days off between series compared to the three for the Sharks, who eliminated Los Angeles in six games.
That could make rust the issue early in Game 1 this year.
“It’s always a concern,” coach Mike Babcock said Thursday. “But I’d rather have that concern instead of playing last night.”
The time off has given the Red Wings time to heal some injuries. Johan Franzen, who led the team with 28 goals in the regular season, has recovered from an injured left ankle that forced him to miss Game 4 against the Coyotes. Leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg is also back after missing the entire first round with an injured left knee.
“They’re going to be healthier,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. “They’re going to be better and they’re going to be probably more motivated. Had we faced Chicago we would have had that little extra oomph in our step. I’m sure they’ll have that. We’ll have to be better than we were last year to beat them.”
This is the third time in the past five years that these teams have met in the second round, with Detroit winning in six games in 2007 and the Sharks taking last year’s series in five.
These teams have seemingly been on a collision course the last seven years as they have top two records in the regular season in that span. The franchises have combined for 11 division titles and four Presidents’ Trophies in that span.
The similarities go beyond the standings as the Sharks have tried to emulate the Red Wings by hiring McLellan, a former Detroit assistant, as their head coach three years ago.
Both teams rely heavily on puck possession and have three talented lines that can score goals at any time. The Sharks got at least five goals from each of their top three lines in the opening round, while Detroit had 13 players score goals in its four games.
“We have fairly similar teams,” Zetterberg said. “We play similar ways in terms of structure. They’re always good battles. We’ve played these guys so many times. You know everyone, you know what to do, you know what you don’t want them to do. It’s going to be a great battle. It always is.”
This will mark the sixth time in the past seven years that one of these teams has made it to the Western Conference final, with the only exception coming in 2006 when Edmonton beat Anaheim.
While the Sharks lost their two trips to the conference final, falling to Calgary in 2004 and getting swept by Chicago last year, Detroit has made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2008 and ’09, beating the Penguins for the title in that first trip.
The Sharks have had the upper hand of late, winning seven of the last nine meetings starting with last year’s playoff. But none of that will matter come Friday.
“You can wipe that right out the window,” San Jose forward Devin Setoguchi said. “Every year is different. It’s a new series, a new season. It doesn’t matter how many games we won against them the last two years. It’s going to be totally different in this series.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.