SAN JOSE (Sports Network) - The San Jose Sharks will try to get off to a quick start in the postseason when they host the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche at HP Pavilion for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals.
For the second season in a row, the Sharks head into the playoffs as the Western Conference's top seed. Make no mistake, though, the Sharks do not want history to repeat itself.
The reason for that is simple; last year, the Sharks entered the playoffs fresh off a 117-point season that netted them the Presidents' Trophy and high expectations. To say San Jose ended up underachieving is putting it nicely. The Sharks were eliminated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in six games, not the way head coach Todd McLellan wanted to begin his tenure with San Jose in his postseason debut.
Unlike last season, the Sharks do have some momentum this time around. They went 5-4-1 in their final 10 games a year ago, but wrapped up 2009-10 with a four-game winning streak and an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10.
Similar to last season, the Sharks have the tools for a deep run in what is their sixth straight appearance in the postseason. However, just one of those has gone past the semifinals, a 2004 Western Conference finals loss to Calgary.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov finished second in the NHL with 44 wins and the Sharks boast potentially one of the top lines in the game with Joe Thornton centering wingers Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. Thornton finished second in the league with 69 assists and eighth with 89 points, while Marleau was fourth with 44 goals. Heatley, in his first season with San Jose, wasn't far back with 39 goals.
Offense won't only come from up front for the Sharks. Defenseman Dan Boyle was fourth on the club with 58 points -- fourth highest among NHL defenders -- while Rob Blake ended with 30. Those two tied for second in scoring during San Jose's short run in last year's playoffs with four points each, one behind Thornton.
Nabokov could be under the biggest spotlight, outside of maybe Thornton. The 34-year-old is 32-31 in the postseason with a 2.23 goals-against average, but posted a 2.82 GAA and .890 save percentage in last year's first-round exit.
While, the Sharks were among the preseason favorites to win it all, nobody expected much from the Avalanche. Colorado's youth movement pushed the fast- forward button in 2009-10, as the club posted an 11-win turnaround to grab the eighth seed one season after finishing last in the Western Conference with 69 points. That gave the Avs their third playoff appearance in five seasons since the lockout.
Seven of Colorado's top nine scorers this year are under 24, giving Rocky Mountain fans some hope for long-term success. However, those seven skaters also have just 22 games of playoff experience between them. Nine of those games have been played by leading scorer Paul Stastny, with defenseman Kyle Quincey possessing the other 13.
Inexperience doesn't stop at the net, as goaltender Craig Anderson makes his playoff debut. Colorado signed Anderson to be its No. 1 goaltender this past offseason and he responded with a 38-25-7 record with seven shutouts and a 2.64 goals-against average in 71 starts.
The Avalanche will hope that their lack of playoff experience doesn't hurt them in this series, but keep in mind this will also be head coach Joe Sacco's playoff debut as well.
After being limited to 45 games a season ago, Stastny turned in a career year, setting a new personal best with 79 points off of 20 goals and a career-high 59 assists.
At 24, Stastny is the elder statesman among 22-year-old Chris Stewart and 19- year-old rookie Matt Duchene. Stewart, a 2006 first round pick, was second on the club with 64 points, including a team-high 28 goals, while 2009 third overall pick Duchene put together a Calder Trophy-worthy season with 24 goals and freshman-leading 55 points.
Duchene was slowed by a torso injury late in the season but should be okay for this series. Peter Mueller, however, will not be in the lineup tonight after suffering a concussion on April 4 versus the Sharks on a hit by San Jose's Blake. Mueller revived his young career after getting traded from Phoenix to Colorado at the deadline, posting nine goals and 20 points in 15 games after the trade as opposed to four goals and 17 points in 54 games before it.
The Avalanche will try to become the third eight seed in five seasons to knock off the top-seeded club. However, the Sharks had the better of the season series, going 2-1-1 and winning both games in San Jose. However, the Sharks were actually outscored by the Avalanche, 14-13, in this year's season series, showing just how close this matchup could end up being.
These two clubs will meet in the postseason for the fourth time, with the last coming in 2004. The Sharks won that series, 4-2, in the semifinals before losing in six games to the Flames in the conference finals.
Game 2 of this set is scheduled for Friday night at the Shark Tank.