SAN JOSE It's been more than six months since the Vancouver Canucks ended San Joses Stanley Cup dream last May when Kevin Bieksa scored one of the wackiest series-ending goals in recent memory.
The Sharks that were a part of that series remember it well, as the two teams meet for the first time tonight at HP Pavilion since the last year's Western Conference Final.
Obviously, theres some carryover there, Patrick Marleau said Saturday morning. You dont like losing to anybody, thats for sure. Our team has changed a little bit, but the players that have been here know what were going to be up against tonight. Its going to be a good challenge.
Its a new season. We put that behind us and try to learn from it, and build a championship team here this year, said Douglas Murray.
The Sharks enter the game on a four-game winning streak, but the Canucks have won three in a row themselves. After an up-and-down start, Vancouver may be playing its best hockey of the season after a 3-0 shutout win in Phoenix on Friday night.
Vancouver enters in 10th place in the Western Conference (12-9-1) while the Sharks (13-5-1) are in third, atop the Pacific Division.
They seem to be out of their doldrums, if you will, same thing we were in (this time last year) after playing in the final four, said Todd McLellan. They are a very committed team, hard on the backcheck, good gaps and not a lot of time and space in the offensive zone for the opposition.
"Obviously, right now youre getting nothing for free from this Vancouver team.
Middle men: The Sharks may have won their last four games, but according to McLellan, they have been outshot and outchanced in our last four games and still came away with victories.
That can't happen tonight, though.
If it does, then well be in a lot of trouble, said the head coach. I think Vancouver can finish with the best of them, and theyve proven that, so weve got to pick our game up a little bit.
The Sharks continue to own the second period, despite some uneven play during long stretches. After scoring the lone goal of the game on Wednesday in Chicago in the middle frame, San Jose is an incredible 20 on the season.
We know that second periods are our best, and I think that guys get that feeling when were going out after the first, that its going to be a good period, said Marleau.
Vancouver, incidentally, has been outscored 27-21 in the second period, but are a combined 14 in the first and third.
Top Jimmy: The Sharks will apparently stick with Jim Vandermeer and Jason Demers as their third defense pair tonight, as those two were the first off of the ice. Demers scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win over Chicago, while Vandermeer could be a necessary big body against a Vancouver team that likes to play physical.
Thats what I bring. If those are the games they want me in for, thats what Ill do, said Vandermeer.
The Sharks have rotated their third defense pair in each of the previous three games, with Colin White and Justin Braun playing in Colorado last Sunday while Demers and White played Saturday in Dallas.
Hot goalies: The Canucks and Sharks will both ride their hot hands in net tonight as Cory Schneider will oppose Antti Niemi. Niemi registered his first shutout of the season on Wednesday, while Schneider (5-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .927 SP) has stopped 46 shots combined in blanking Phoenix last night and Colorado on Wednesday.
Niemi (9-2-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SP) has won his last five starts and allowed two or fewer goals in each of them.
Roberto Luongo (7-5-1, 2.97 GAA, .896 SP), the regular starter for the Canucks, recently returned from an upper body injury that caused him to miss two games. Hell begin the night on the bench, though, for the third straight time.
Odds and ends: The Canucks have the top power play in the NHL (24.5 percent), while the improving Sharks penalty kill has not allowed a power play goal in five of the last six games. Two of the four games between these teams last regular season went to the shootout, with each team winning once. The Sharks were 1-2-1 overall against Vancouver. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 10-1 over the last three games, while the Sharks have a 14-4 advantage in their four straight wins.