In-state rivals meet up in Anaheim for possible playoff preview
For the second time in just five days, rivals Anaheim and San Jose go head-to-head. Led by Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, the Sharks rallied to beat the Ducks on Saturday, 4-2. With their playoff lives still somewhat in limbo, Randy Carlyle’s club looks to bounce back tonight on home-ice.
There were some hostilities exchanged at the end of their tilt on Saturday, as Douglas Murray delivered a late hit to Lubomir Visnovsky, who was injured on the play (but played in the next game). This is not a time to settle scores, but I wouldn’t rule it out with the always-rugged Ducks.
Expect this contest to once again be a hard-hitting battle, as these teams could face each other next week in the first round. In fact, if the season ended today, this would be the 2-7 matchup.
San Jose, who has won eight of nine, is flying high right now. Antti Niemi has continued his great play between the pipes, while Marleau (24 points in last 15 games) and Joe Pavelski (10-game point streak) are on fire.
Since Jan. 15, Team Teal is a remarkable 26-4-4. Yet, they are flying a bit under the radar going into next week as Vancouver is the odds-on favorite in the Western Conference.
The Ducks have been tamed a bit in the last few days, suffering back-to-back losses for the first time since late February. Via the strength of their top line – Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan – this team has been on an absolute roll over the last month or so.
With 93 points and three games to go, Carlyle and company still have work to do. After tonight, they’ll finish the regular season with a home-and-home against another rival, Los Angeles. They need to win tonight to distance themselves from 9th-seeded Dallas, who has 91 points and a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
As a changeup, though, San Jose is going with Antero Niittymaki in net tonight. Niemi had started 34 consecutive games, going 25-4-4 in that time. Anaheim will go with Masterton Trophy candidate Ray Emery, who will make his sixth straight start.
Records – SJ (47-23-9, 103 pts) … ANA (44-30-5, 93 pts)
Power Play – SJ (66/279, 23.7%, 2nd) … ANA (61/273, 22.3%, 5th)
Penalty Kill – SJ (207/258, 80.2%, 23rd) … ANA (245/291, 80.8%, 21st)
Keys to the Game:
San Jose… Keep up the power play success
Their man advantage unit has been rolling all year; but since Mar. 8, the Sharks have only been shut out on the power play twice (Mar. 26 at Phoenix; Monday vs. Los Angeles).
Anaheim… Get to Niittymaki
The Sharks goalie has only placed once since mid-January, and that was on Mar. 14 in relief of Niemi in Chicago. Anaheim’s top line needs to swarm Niittymaki early and make things uncomfortable.
San Jose… Ryane Clowe (lower body, doubtful), Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins (upper body, out)
Anaheim… Jonas Hiller (vertigo, out)
As I mentioned, this will definitely be an intense battle at the Pond tonight. I think desperation will play a key role in this game. Anaheim let a lead get away in San Jose over the weekend, and simply needs the points more than the Sharks do. While Todd McLellan’s club would certainly like to spoil the Ducks’ playoff hopes, a letdown is possible after clinching the Pacific Division on Monday. Since Niittymaki is in net, I like Anaheim tonight.
Prediction: Ducks 4, Sharks 3 (SO)
Photos credit: Getty Images
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