| Sharks-Avalanche series
Lots of changes since the last semifinal
4/21/04 - by John Cook
has been almost two years since the Sharks and Avalanche played in one of the
more exciting playoff series in Team Teal's brief history. In a series that
went the distance, you can say it had all its moments. Patrick Marleau, and his
wrister from the blueline that eluded Patrick Roy in Game 1. The eight-goal
barrage by the Avs in Game 2. A crazy Game 3, where the lead changed hands four
different times. An earthquake-rattled Game 6, where the Sharks had the
opportunity to close it out and send San Jose into bedlam, but a player by the
name of Forsberg had other ideas. And then you had Selanne and the gaping, open
net in Game 7.
That was 2002. This is 2004. So what has changed? Well,
a lot actually. We'll start with the coaches. Bob Hartley was fired midway
through the 2002-03 season and was replaced by assistant coach, and former
Shark, Tony Granato.
Granato lead the struggling Colorado club into
the post-season for a meeting with the surprising Minnesota Wild, where the
underdogs would erase a 3-1 series deficit to win the decisive game in dramatic
For San Jose, Darryl Sutter, the mastermind of turning the
franchise around in 1997, was fired around the same time as Hartley. Sutter was
replaced by Ron Wilson, who has implemented his own style of coaching in a very
successful manner. The players have adapted to his style and the Sharks record
speaks for itself.
When you look at the Colorado hockey club, you
can't help but acknowledge the star-studded lineup that they possess. Joe
Sakic. Peter Forsberg. Teemu Selanne. Paul Kariya. Milan Hedjuk. Alex Tanguay.
Rob Blake. The list goes on and on. There is danger on every line. Patrick
Roy's predecessor, David Aebischer, hasn't done a bad job in net, considering
the way he handled the Dallas Stars in the quarterfinals. Is this going to
scare the Sharks going into round 2? Not likely.
San Jose's squad is a
lot different than the one that missed the conference finals by a botched
wrap-around opportunity. After the Sutter firing, the Sharks unloaded much of
the core of the team. Owen Nolan, the team's captain since 1998, was traded to
Toronto for Alyn McCauley. Bryan Marchment was shipped to Colorado. Matt
Bradley was swapped for Pittsburgh's Wayne Primeau. Vincent Damphousse was
nearly traded to the Avalanche in a deadline deal, but due to salary issues,
the deal fell through. Selanne declined his option for 2003-04, making himself
a free agent, where he would find himself joining the Avs with longtime friend,
Paul Kariya, in a package deal. This move, on paper, made Colorado the early
favorite to win the Cup.
This playoff series is a little different
than the 1999 and '02 tilts. For starters, San Jose has the home-ice advantage.
In 2002, the Sharks and the Avs both finished with 99 points, but Colorado had
one more win in the standings, thus giving them the tie-breaker. Just how much
will home ice play a factor? It's no secret that the Shark Tank is among the
loudest buildings during the playoffs, so you can bet the players will be
feeding off the energy. However, the Sharks only lost eight times at home in
regulation, while the Avalanche lost eight times in regulation on the road, so
it is going to be a tough battle in that aspect. If you look at Colorado's home
record, it almost mirrors the Sharks road record.
So who has the edge? Most will put their money on the
mighty Avalanche. With the amazingly talented lineup, there should be no reason
for Colorado not to win the series, right? Not so fast. The Sharks had five
20-goal scorers (nearly six, Alex Korolyuk had 19) and a few even had career
years. Alyn McCauley, who many questioned following the Nolan trade, was third
in team scoring and established new career highs in goals and points. McCauley
nearly doubled his best season in points, prior to this year. Players who burst
on the scene like Nils Ekman, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Niko Dimitrakos, played
key roles in the Sharks franchise-best 104 point season. Ekman finished just
two points behind Marleau for the team lead in points. Cheechoo was tied with
McCauley for third in points. Dimitrakos contributed more toward season's end
and into the playoffs, scoring the overtime goal in the playoff opener versus
You can't brush off the Avalanche very easily. The last
time these two teams played each other in the post-season, Joe Sakic and Peter
Forsberg pretty much, single-handedly, beat the Sharks. Forsberg, who played in
zero regular season games, scored 12 points in seven games, while Sakic scored
10. Even though Teemu Selanne has had a sub par season, he is always a sniper
threat. Milan Hedjuk is a Shark killer, especially if the game goes into
overtime. The Sharks have lost all three overtime games to Colorado in their
playoff history and Hedjuk has been apart of all three goals, scoring two
(Games 2 and 6 in 1999) and assisting on one (Game 6 in 2002).
clear that this series takes place in a whole new era for both teams. New
coaches. New Players, young and old. Will the Avalanche playoff experience lead
them, or will the Sharks to defy the critics and move farther into the Stanley
Cup playoffs than ever before?
Only time will tell.
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