It’s hard to look at the San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks without thinking of the other. The similarities are aplenty, but which team is better?
Recent history has been good to these franchises, but with just one Stanley Cup to show for it (Anaheim, 2006-07) they enter this series hungry and determined to make a more lasting mark. History can change suddenly and both organizations have had the luxury of an open window for a lot longer than most.
The Ducks are in their sixth straight postseason and eleventh in the last thirteen. The Sharks have been in thirteen of the last fourteen, peaking with a loss to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup finals. Surprisingly, this will only be the second time they’ve met in the playoffs. Anaheim won in six games in 2008-09.
Anaheim is coached by Randy Carlyle, who was at the helm during their championship season. He guided the Ducks to a 44-25-13 season and they enter the postseason red hot — 10-1-1 in their last twelve. His career mark, including parts of four seasons in Toronto, is 454-308-106. He carries a 49-37 post season record into this series.
Pacing behind the San Jose bench is another seasoned veteran, Peter DeBoer. With previous stops in Florida and New Jersey, he takes a career record of 354-286-100 into the tournament. His postseason record of 30-24 includes an eastern conference championship with the Devils and a western crown with this Shark team two years ago. San Jose finished a point behind Anaheim, at 45-27-10.
Both coaches have been through many ups and downs and have made winning a constant. Very close call over who has the edge, so rather than splitting hairs, I will go to the ultimate tie breaker. One Stanley Cup to none, slight edge here goes to Carlyle.
In net, Martin Jones has at least 30 wins in his first three years with the Sharks and has already proven he can elevate his game in the playoffs. He led the team, sometimes spectacularly, to the 2016 finals and last year, despite a first round loss to Edmonton, posted a ridiculous 1.75 GAA. On the other side is John Gibson, who at 24 has not yet established the kind of track record you can count on. He has shown glimpses. It is worth noting that his backup is 37 year old Ryan Miller, whose numbers were actually better than Gibson’s, and in just 21 starts he posted four shutouts. Few were better than Miller in his prime and I’m guessing he is chomping at the bit for one more chance. Edge in goal goes to San Jose.
On the blue line, the Sharks are led by the amazing Brent Burns, whose offensive skills at the position are a force to be reckoned with. Although his goal total was way down (12 from 29), he had a career high in assists and led the team in points. The Sharks are steady defensively, but not great. Their forwards play solid two way hockey which helps.
The Ducks defense has been hit with injuries at the wrong time, most notably was the injury to Cam Fowler. His skills are such that his loss also hurts this team offensively. The Ducks will need a surprise from their defense, such as 23-year-old Brandon Montour, to pick up the slack to keep pressure off of Gibson. The Ducks also get strong defensive play from their forwards. Despite injuries, slight overall edge on D goes to Anaheim.
Up front, both teams are loaded with quality veterans who’ve played a lot of games as a unit. Despite an injury to mainstay, Joe Thornton, the Sharks send out a ton of experience with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joel Ward (a playoff stud) and Tomas Hertl (only 24). The Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and leading scorer, Rickard Rakell also boast a front line who has been working at this together for a number of years. There will be a certain familiarity and predictability with these guys.
On the flip side of that, and certainly no less significant, two trade acquisitions could very well hold the key to this series. Evander Kane has exploded onto the scene in San Jose. With 9 goals and 14 points in 17 games, this big and talented forward has people asking if he is the missing piece. On the Duck side, more subtle but no less significant was their early season trade for former Devil Adam Henrique. His 20 goals and 16 assists in 57 games are solid and he has had some big postseason moments. While the top line heavyweights slug it out, these guys and the rest of the depth will determine who wins this series. Can the rising young stars of San Jose take a big step now or will the veterans of the Ducks, including face-off extraordinaire, Antoine Vermette, skate to the forefront? My edge at forward goes to Anaheim.
Three of the four games against each other this season went to a shootout. That foreshadows a long and grueling series. It should be fun and it should be physical. In game seven, the second overtime, 24-year-old Rickard Rakell slips one past Martin Jones and the Ducks advance in a thriller.