Duck Hunt at the Tank Tonight

The Sharks enjoyed a dream season in the NHL this year, their best season in franchise history. They won the President's Trophy. They finished ahead of the defending World Champion Red Wings. They have home ice through the playoffs, and have earned the NHL's best home record when playing at The Tank. They're the only team in the NHL to have won a playoff series each if the last four seasons.

And hockey pundits nationwide are predicting they'll get beat in the first round. By an eight-seed.

The no-respect Sharks start their playoff series at The Tank against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. It's the first all-California playoff series in the the NHL since 1969 -- back when the NHL had something called the Oakland Seals. California isn't exactly hockey country -- but it's the home of perhaps the most compelling first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Sharks and Ducks are in the same division and have played each other six times this season -- including twice in the final week of the season. That's a lot of punches, cheap shots and loose teeth. This series comes immediately following an April 5 regular season game that ended in a pier nine donnybrook, with a combined 64 minutes of penalties handed out for a fight which occurred after the game's conclusion.

It should be noted that this brawl is exactly why some Sharks fans hoped for another shot at Anaheim

It should also be noted that there's are respected NHL analysts picking Anaheim to beat the top-seeded Sharks in this series. No less than ESPN's Barry Melrose, the pomade prince of hockey analysis, is picking the Ducks to upset. "I think this is the worst matchup  San Jose could have got, for a number of reasons. First off, the Ducks have been playing playoff hockey for two months " Melrose says on the ESPN series preview. "The Sharks have not been playing games like that all season long, they got off to such a great start. They've never played a game where they've had to win."

Melrose then picks Anaheim to win the series in seven games.

The New York Times chimes in with a chilling observation -- the top seeds in the NHL playoffs lose more than in the other major sports. Since the introduction of the current NHL playoff format, 20 of 56 first and second seeds have been upset by their respective seventh and eight-seeded opponents. The seven and eight seeds will upset the top seeds in over a third of first-round NHL series.

Sharks fans who care to call shenanigans on that kind of nonsense have several solid arguments to employ. Todd McLellan is Cup-tested under last year's championship Detroit squad. The Sharks are a far deeper team, they have seven different players with more than 50 points. Furthermore, the Sharks did some trading deadline pilfering to acquire Travis Moen and Kent Huskins, two of the Ducks Anaheim needed to win their 2007 Stanley Cup. 

Most importantly, Anaheim is the eighth seed for a good reason. They just weren't able to win as many games as San Jose.

 Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who is rooting for another pier nine donnybrook.

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