SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the San Jose Sharks hired former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan as their head coach two years ago, they were looking to duplicate some of the post-season success the Red Wings had enjoyed.
Now they get to find out if the imitation is as good as the original when the two teams meet in a Western Conference second-round series beginning Thursday night in San Jose.
McLellan brought over many of the philosophies he learned in Detroit under coach Mike Babcock, most notably a strong emphasis on puck possession.
“It’s a copycat league,” Sharks defenceman Douglas Murray said. “It always has been and probably always will be. When you have successful franchises like Detroit, teams are going to copy it. If it’s successful why not try to use it?”
The one thing the Sharks haven’t been able to emulate is Detroit’s post-season success. The Sharks have not made it past the second round in their past four trips to the post-season, including a second-round loss to the Red Wings in 2007.
A playoff rematch has seemed inevitable because of how much talent both teams have. But early exits the past two seasons by San Jose have delayed that.
“They play a similar style to us,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve been facing them a lot the last few years in the playoffs. It’s usually a really good series. It’s well-played hockey and it’s exciting for the fans.”
Despite being the two best teams in the NHL since the start of the 2005-06 season, the 2007 series is the only post-season meeting in that span.
The Red Wings were knocked out in the first round by Edmonton in 2006, the Sharks fell in the second round to Dallas in 2008 with the Red Wings waiting in the Western Conference finals and San Jose lost in the first round last season despite having the best record in the NHL.
Now they meet again in a rematch of the 2007 series that still leaves a bitter taste for many San Jose followers. The Sharks had a 2-1 series lead and a one-goal lead in the final minute at home in Game 4.
But with Dominik Hasek pulled for an extra skater and Patrick Marleau looking for an empty-net goal, Robert Lang scored the equalizer with 33.1 seconds left in regulation. Mathieu Schneider scored in overtime to tie the series and the Red Wings won the final two games 4-1 and 2-0 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
That’s just one of many playoff disappointments in recent years for the Sharks.
“That is our reputation right now,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “You got to work extremely hard to change your reputation once something happens. A lot of us in that room have only been to the second round. I mean, a few guys won Cups. We know that experience. But it’s something, you always got to reprove yourself every year.”
The top-seeded Sharks tried to do that by beating Colorado in six games in the first round. The Red Wings needed seven games to knock off fourth-seeded Phoenix, winning the deciding game on the road 6-1 Tuesday night.
The Red Wings flew to the Bay Area after the win and took Wednesday off to try to be as fresh as possible for Thursday’s series opener. Detroit even began preparing for the Sharks in the third period Tuesday night with the game and series against the Coyotes safely in hand.
Babcock cut back on the usual ice time for some of his top players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“I think it just helped late in the game not to be forced to protect the lead and play your top players,” said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who turned 40 Wednesday. “They had a chance to rest, and I think that’s good when you’re moving on here.”
The Red Wings won three of the four regular season meetings with the teams splitting shootouts in Detroit and the Red Wings winning 4-1 and 4-2 in San Jose. The Sharks were 0-for-10 on the power play, scoring just six goals in the four games.
Joe Thornton scored three of the goals and Marleau had one. Those two are part of San Jose’s gold-medal line with Dany Heatley that scored about 40 per cent of the team’s goals in the regular season. But the trio had only one goal in the first-round series against Colorado.
Pavelski’s second line with Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi picked up the slack. Pavelski scored five goals, Setoguchi had three and Clowe had one goal and seven assists. But the Sharks know they’ll need more production from their top line to knock off Detroit.
“We got it done with a lot of other people in the first round,” said Heatley, who was slowed by a lower-body injury in the first round. “We just have to keep creating chances. As long as we’re creating chances, we’ll score some goals.”
AP Sports Writer Matt Paulson in Glendale, Ariz., contributed to this report.