Whether the Ducks and Sharks are on a postseason collision course or not, they've guaranteed us fireworks for Wednesday.
Arthur, much of the animosity between these teams stems from the fact that Anaheim once played spoiler to a Presidents' Trophy Sharks squad. Two years later, is the matchup the same?
I hesitate to say the Sharks aren't as good as they used to be. I know I didn't hesitate predicting they wouldn't be, but a lack of steady goaltending and defense didn't, ultimately, tank their season like it could have.
And I guess that's the difference. If they aren't as good as they used to be, then whatever failure befalls them just isn't as comical, isn't as "cursed" and thus can't be the same as the team that Benny-Hilled its way to an early exit two years ago. It's sad, but to me, that matchup was much more about them beating themselves than it was about us beating them. I mean, how many times do you try to go high on Hiller before someone reads a frikkin scouting report?
And if they are as good as they used to be, then it's different because it's not clear where the Ducks are. No Hiller. The top line is arguably not clicking the way it did against them in '09, and you can argue it hasn't since. But is that the price of having a more confident and developed Bobby Ryan and a Captain Getzlaf? Is Corey Perry so dangerous right now that the only 'clicking' that line needs are congratulatory applause?
The makeup of the team is different, and that's to say nothing of the fact that the Sharks have seem determined, ever since, to not be muscled around by the Ducks, the way a determined Red Wings team tried to stick it to Anaheim after it got past the Sharks in '09. And sadly, the Ducks don't do much muscling anymore, so who knows what an all-out war would look like? It's just not a sequel, not a rematch; it can't be.
The Sharks are a different team than they were two years ago, in some ways more than others. That run to the Conference Finals has to have given them a little confidence. They have a shiny new goaltender who beat them in the Conference Finals last year and last game they outhit the Ducks. They're the hottest team since the all-star break. This is a team that has earned its confidence.
On the other hand, the Ducks are a squad that kept pace and suffered an unfortunate call on the way to a loss where they were still pushed around. Perry and Selanne have proven over and over that they can score clutch goals. The Defense has survived the whims of Bob Murray to become a pretty cohesive unit. The Ducks' ability to come back from the most dire of circumstances certainly gives them that underdog feeling.
I think both teams are different from the way they were two years ago. But, at the core, these teams aren't that different. Both have improved their scoring depth. The Sharks have toughened up, but the Ducks have improved the depth of their defense. Goaltending is a question for both clubs. Niemi didn't emerge as the number 1 until the second half of the season, and Emery is beginning to look more and more solid with each game. Granted, Niemi has won a cup, but Emery was in the Finals. Sometimes you just need a little luck.
If the Ducks win on Wednesday then the season series will be tied at 3, and except for a 5-2 loss at the beginning of the season, all of them were essentially one goal games. It's hard to imagine a pair of teams that are as evenly matched. I don't know if the result will be the same, but a series would look a lot like it did in 2009.