Playoff preview: Sharks vs. Red Wings

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Los...

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Los Angeles Kings during overtime in Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final hockey game in Los Angeles, California April 25, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

DAN DI SCIULLO, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

SAN JOSE SHARKS (2nd seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 48-25-9

2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Los Angeles 4-2 in conference quarterfinals

After getting eliminated in the second round or earlier for four straight years, the San Jose Sharks broke through against Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals last spring.

The Sharks hope they can make history repeat itself, as they once again find themselves pitted against the Red Wings in Round 2.

Todd McLellan's club defeated Detroit in five games last spring to earn the franchise's second-ever trip to the conference finals. The run didn't last long after that, however, as the Sharks were swept by Chicago, ending San Jose's dreams of landing its first berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Overall, the 2010 postseason was a strong run for the Sharks, who in 2009 were eliminated in the opening round by Anaheim despite having the best record in the NHL.

This year, San Jose is seeded second in the West after claiming its fourth straight Pacific Division crown. The Sharks then dispatched division rival Los Angeles in six games to make it to the second round of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The Sharks had seven players notch two goals or more in the opening round against the Kings and Ryane Clowe led the way with four tallies. Clowe also led the team in scoring with seven points versus LA.

Joe Pavelski added three goals, while Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Logan Couture and Jason Demers each contributed two markers.

Pavelski had an excellent series against Detroit in last year's playoffs, notching four goals and three assists over the five meetings. Thornton had three goals and five assists in the 2010 conference semis.

Scoring depth is San Jose's strong suit, but McLellan would like his team to use that asset to cash in more on the power play. The Sharks potted just two power-play goals on 23 chances with the man advantage in Round 1.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi will also try to improve his performance in the second round after going 3-2 with a lofty 3.99 goals-against average and a simply awful .863 save percentage against the Kings.

Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup as a rookie goaltender with Chicago last spring, was pulled twice in this year's conference quarterfinal series, but he is still San Jose's No. 1 goaltending choice over fellow Finnish netminder Antero Niittymaki.

The 27-year-old Niemi was 16-6 with a 2.63 GAA during the Blackhawks' title run in 2010.

San Jose's defensive group had a solid showing on the scoresheet in Round 1, as all six of the Sharks primary blueliners registered a point in the series. Ian White, who missed Game 2 with a head injury, led Sharks defensemen with five points (all assists) and Demers paced the blueliners with his two goals.

Dan Boyle is considered San Jose's best overall defenseman, as witnessed by his team-leading 27 minutes, 10 seconds of ice time per game in the opening round. Boyle also added three assists against the Kings.

Like the power play, San Jose's penalty-killing unit could stand to improve this round. The Sharks allowed LA to score five times on 24 opportunities with the man advantage in the opening series.

DETROIT RED WINGS (3rd seed, West)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 47-25-10

2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Phoenix 4-0 in conference quarterfinals

The Red Wings were coming off a seven-game series with Phoenix last year when they entered their second-round matchup against San Jose.

This time around, Detroit swept the Coyotes in four games to earn the rematch with the Sharks. The ease with which the Red Wings eliminated Phoenix this year compared to last spring could be a good sign for Mike Babcock's club heading into Round 2.

The 2010 postseason marked Detroit's worst playoff run since losing to Edmonton in the first round in 2006. After all, the Red Wings, who are in the postseason for a 20th straight season, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 by beating Pittsburgh and the following year they lost in seven games to the Penguins in a return to the finals.

At the very least, Detroit's quick first-round victory has helped the club get healthier. The Red Wings haven't played a game since completing the sweep of Phoenix on April 20.

Henrik Zetterberg, who led his club with 80 points in the regular season, missed the entire first round with a sprained left MCL. However, the 2008 Conn Smythe winner has been practicing during his club's extended break between rounds and the Swede is expected to play in Game 1 of this series.

Meanwhile, Zetterberg's fellow Swedish forward Johan Franzen missed the final test of the Phoenix series with an ankle injury. Franzen, who paced Detroit with 28 goals this season, is also expected to be ready for the opener in Round 2. Franzen managed two goals and an assist in his three games against the Coyotes.

With his team banged up, Pavel Datsyuk picked up the slack in the opening round, leading the Red Wings with six points on two goals and four assists. Datsyuk has amassed 82 points (30g, 52a) in 114 career playoff tests and is also one of the best defensive forwards in the game. The three-time Selke Award winner was named as a finalist for the honor again this season.

Five players tied for the team lead in goals in Round 1, as Tomas Holmstrom, Patrick Eaves and defenseman Brian Rafalski joined Datsyuk and Franzen with two tallies each. Valtteri Filppula also added a goal and four assists in the brief series.

Nicklas Lidstrom, who is a finalist for the Norris Trophy yet again this season, joined Rafalski with two points from the blue line. The 40-year-old Lidstrom's two assists in the Phoenix series gives the six-time Norris winner 177 points (50g, 127a) in 251 career playoff games.

Niklas Kronwall led Detroit's defensive corps with three points on a goal and two assists. Kronwall also tied Datsyuk and fellow defenseman Ruslan Salei for the team lead with a plus-six rating.

Salei is battling an undisclosed injury, but is expected to play in Game 1.

Babcock's defensive depth allows the coach to not have to overuse any of his defensemen. Kronwall led the way in ice time in Round 1 with a modest 22:14 per game.

Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard had a solid first round, allowing 10 goals on 118 shots for a .915 save percentage and a 2.50 GAA. Like Niemi, Howard is a 27-year-old who made his postseason debut last spring, but unlike San Jose's netminder, Howard still has back-stopping his team to a Stanley Cup title on his to-do list.

With Chris Osgood still battling a groin injury, Joey MacDonald will enter this round as Howard's backup.

Detroit had an efficient power-play attack in the opening round, scoring four times on 15 chances with the man advantage. However, the Red Wings certainly have room for improvement on the penalty kill after allowing the Coyotes to score six times on 18 power-play opportunities.

MATCHUP

Last year's conference semifinal matchup between the Sharks and Wings may have lasted only five games, but that is a tad bit misleading. San Jose won all four of its games by one-goal margins and Detroit's victory came in a 7-1 blowout.

Still, the Sharks should be slight favorites heading into this year's matchup after following up last year's playoff win with three victories in four regular-season encounters in 2010-11.

The Red Wings and Sharks have met four times in the playoffs and each club has won two series. Detroit last ousted San Jose in six games during the 2007 conference semifinals.

Niemi could be the difference in this series for San Jose, as he has excellent career numbers against Detroit, going 5-1-1 with a 1.97 GAA and a .932 save percentage versus the Red Wings. However, he has never faced the Wings in the postseason.

Howard is 3-2-1 with a 2.81 GAA in six career games against the Sharks. He's also never met San Jose in the playoffs.

This should be a highly-competitive series between a pair of division champions and it would be surprising if this set didn't last longer than last spring's matchup.

The Red Wings will be eager to avenge their postseason loss from a year ago, but the Sharks will use their younger legs to outlast Detroit in the end.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Sharks in 7


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