No choke this year: Sharks in five | VailDaily.com
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No choke this year: Sharks in five

Oh, you Avs fans are feeling good, aren’t you?

You’re in the Stanley Cup playoffs after a year’s absence, and what’s more, you’ve got a plum assignment – you’re the No. 8 seed taking on the Western Conference’s top seed, the San Jose Sharks, a team notorious for playoff flops.

This is the chic pick for an upset in the first round of the playoffs marathon. The Avs bandwagon is loading up again. Here we go.



It’s going to be a short trip, people.

The Avs have had a good season. Not many saw them even in the playoffs this year, so good on Colorado for making it, but the road does end here.



The Sharks are an infinitely better team and were built for this. The 82 games known as a regular season were a prelude to this after last year’s utter choke job in six games to Anaheim. This is payback time for San Jose, and in a delightful coincidence, we get to go through Colorado.

History lesson

Let’s flash back to 1995 when the No. 1 seed of the conference, led by Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, was flying high, only to get knocked out by a playoff-savvy No. 8 team – the New York Rangers.



Those were the Quebec Nordiques the season before the team moved to Denver and won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Would that this little nugget of history repeat itself? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that No. 8s do beat No. 1s in the Stanley Cup playoffs. San Jose as a franchise knows that well – see the Detroit Red Wings in 1994 and the St. Louis Blues in 2000, when the Sharks turned the trick.

But it doesn’t happen enough to take it to the bank. San Jose’s playoff failures are much documented. But if you actually look at the track record, the Sharks generally don’t fall flat on their faces until the later rounds.

San Jose is 7-4 in first-round matchups and 5-1 in the Western quarters when it’s been the higher seed. It’s trendy to rip the Sharks for not achieving in the playoffs, and it’s justified, but No. 1 seeds have a way of coming back nicely the next spring.

It takes a while to get to the top of the NHL heap, a fact that is lost to Avs fans who saw their team win in their first year in Colorado.

The great 1994 Rangers team which broke the 1940 curse gagged in 1992 in the playoffs and didn’t even make the postseason in 1993. The hated Detroit Red Wings had numerous playoff pratfalls – 1994 to San Jose, 1995 to New Jersey and 1996 with Colorado – before raising the Cup.

We’ve already mentioned the Avs as the Nordiques. How about losing to Edmonton as the No. 1 seed in 1998? The Avs also had consecutive Western Conference finals losses to Dallas before winning the Ray Bourque Cup in 2001.

Matchups

One of the reasons San Jose will put its playoff questions to bed in Round 1 against the Avs is that this team has been built for spring. Winning the top seed is nice, but San Jose plays defense-first hockey and is solid between the pipes with Evgeni Nabokov.

San Jose is plus-49 in goal differential this year and the Avs a plus-11. You can account for the difference because the Sharks are big and fast. Defensively, they beat you up and they can also skate by you. Rob Blake and Dan Boyle lead the unit – the former may be a familiar name – and they are playoff-tested, having won the Cup in Colorado and Tampa, respectively.

Nabokov does have a checkered history in the playoffs, but Graig Anderson’s making his playoff debut, while Nabokov has 65 postseason games. For the purposes of this series, I take him over Anderson any day.

Offensively, how do the Avs match up with the Sharks? San Jose coach Todd McClellan will likely have his “Big Three” of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley mixed through his lines. Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi can also do a lot of damage. On the power play, McClellan can mix and match these forwards with Boyle and Blake.

Objectively, the Avs don’t have an answer here.

And unlike other postseasons past for Avs fans, Colorado just isn’t the team to which you are used to watching. Patrick Roy, Sakic and Forsberg aren’t walking through that door, kids.

Paul Stastny is an outstanding up-and-coming player, as is Chris Stewart. Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene are solid, but this doesn’t scare anyone. If Colorado had Hejduk and captain Adam Foote from 10 years ago, I’d be worried.

Unfortunately for Colorado, it’s 2010, and it’s the Sharks in five.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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