Better have your playoff beards growing, Sharks fans, because the puck drops on the most important playoff series in franchise history tonight at HP Pavilion.
It's the most important playoff series, because it's the one San Jose is best-equipped to win. All the Sharks' series this playoffs will be the most important in franchise history -- they're supposed to win the Stanley Cup, and the squad is built to do precisely that. Anything less will be a huge disappointment.
The Anaheim Ducks, meanwhile, are the bottom seed with no such expectations. They're just happy to have made the playoffs, and happy to have another crack at knocking out Joe Thornton's teeth. Despite their cartoonish, unintimidating mascot, the Ducks are the second-most penalized team in the NHL. That is to say, they're the second dirtiest team in the NHL.
And they don't have anything to lose. The burden is far heavier on the Sharks -- not only because of the expectations that come with being ther highest-ranked team in the NHL, but because of their early exits in the last two post-seasons.
"We did what we wanted by gaining home-ice throughout the playoffs and our expectations are still to win the Cup," Sharks' defenseman Robert "Baretta" Blake told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't mind having that expectation or pressure because of the group we have assembled."
Blake is one of those guys the Sharkies brought on board specifically to get them past their second-round jinx. Ditto Claude Lemieux and ex-Duck Travis Moen. The Sharks are a team who have addressed any and all perceived weaknesses on their roster.
On paper, the Sharks should be able to make pate out of these Anaheim Ducks. But that's why it's a pressure series. It's the price of being the team expected to win the Stanley Cup.
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who is spending the day trying to make it look like he can grow facial hair.