So often in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, advancement is contingent on who is healthy and who is not.
There is a 100 percent injury rate once the NHL’s second season begins, and the best any team can hope for is that whatever bruise pops up, none are bad enough to keep players off the ice.
When judging their 82-game performances, it’s easy to see that San Jose’s forwards outdid Anaheim’s by a significant margin. The Sharks received 208 goals and 483 points from its forwards, had four players reach 20 goals and nine players reach the double digits. And that doesn’t include Evander Kane, who recorded nine goals in 17 games after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline. Overall, Kane finished with 29 goals and 54 points this year.
By comparison, the Ducks forwards totaled 189 goals and 455 points. Anaheim also had nine players score at least 10 goals, but only three scored over 20. And the Ducks definitely did not pick up a Kane-esque player at the deadline.
But they were also working with their hands tied behind their backs for much of the season. Ryan Getzlaf (missed 26 games), Ryan Kesler (missed 38 games), Corey Perry (missed 11 games) are all important scorers that would’ve boosted the Ducks’ total if they were healthy the entire campaign. Adam Henrique and Ondrej Kase, who were two of the Ducks’ three 20-goal scorers, did not play anywhere near 82 games for Anaheim — Henrique spent the first month and a half of the season with the New Jersey Devils before coming over in a trade, while Kase was limited by injuries until December.
All of the aforementioned names will be available for the Ducks in the first round, and only Kesler appears hampered by some type of injury.
The Sharks are not so fortunate — future Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Thornton hasn’t played since Jan. 23 after requiring surgery on his right knee. He is not expected to play in Game 1, and even if he returns at some point during the series, it’s hard to envision the 38-year-old center producing at his typical rate.
Kane, a nine-year veteran who will be playing in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs at age 26, missed two games down the stretch but returned for the Sharks’ season finale against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
Even at less than full strength, the Sharks maintain much of the forward group that led San Jose to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago. While Joe Pavelski’s scoring totals dipped to a three-year low, he still led the team with 66 points. Goal-wise, Logan Couture (34), Tomas Hertl (22), Timo Meier (21) and Chris Tierney (17) all reached career highs.
What sets Anaheim’s forward group apart in this series is the continuity — aside from short spurts here and there, the Ducks’ top three lines have remained intact for most of the last few months.
Getzlaf, Perry and Rickard Rakell have formed one of the most dangerous top units in the league. Rakell set a career high in goals with 34 and has produced at a point-per-game pace since Feb. 1. Getzlaf has a whopping 25 assists in his last 29 games, while a somewhat reinvigorated Perry has 24 points (9 goals) in 31 games during that span.
With Kesler still returning to form following offseason hip surgery, the “shutdown line” of he, Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano hasn’t been quite as effective as season’s past but they’ve picked up their play over the last few weeks. Cogliano and Silfverberg are 1-2 in scoring for the Ducks so far in April.
Count Kase as the Ducks’ biggest surprise this season. He’s been the true creator on what has been a solid third line with Henrique and Nick Ritchie, and it’ll be a nice test to see how he performs over a seven-game series as teams plan to make life rough on him.
As far as Anaheim’s fourth line, who really knows? Randy Carlyle has thrown darts at the wall and hoped something sticks for most of the season. The Ducks dealt winger Chris Wagner to the New York Islanders in exchange for former 20-goal scorer Jason Chimera and signed Chris Kelly to a one-year deal following his experience at the Olympics with Team Canada in hopes of improving the fourth line. Those two have been largely ineffective during their Ducks’ tenure, prompting Carlyle to re-insert J.T. Brown and Antoine Vermette into the lineup to wrap up the season.
No, the Ducks don’t really play their fourth line more than five minutes a night, but one of these players bumping up to a more significant role is only an injury away. Remember, Patrick Eaves and Rakell were both unavailable at various points of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, prompting a promotion for Nic Kerdiles. Don’t be surprised, if an injury befalls one of the Ducks’ top forwards, to see Troy Terry leapfrog the rest into that spot.
Conclusion: With all the injuries Anaheim dealt with to start the season and considering the ones San Jose is being hampered by now, season totals can almost be thrown out of the window. At full strength, the Sharks would likely have the edge. At the current moment, the Ducks appear slightly more potent.