San Jose Sharks (50-15-11) at Edmonton Oilers (36-32-9)
With the return of Rob Blake, Marcel Goc, and Tomas Plihal tonight, that means that the Sharks only have SIX players on the shelf. Of the players that are of consequence, Mike Grier is skating, Patrick Marleau's burping babies while his "lower body" heals, and Ryane Clowe isn't skating yet (Torrey Mitchell won't be around until the late first/early second round anyways).
There is a silver lining to all of those, though. If you look at the amount of adversity the team's had to go through the past few weeks, the fact that they are able to play a tight defensive style while continuing to grind out victories on a depleted lineup -- that's a good thing. With all due respect to the callups, they've lost speed, experience, size, and skill with all of these injuries, yet continued to roll by adapting to the needs of the day.
That's how you win in the playoffs. It's not always going to be a smooth ride through the playoffs and the fact that all sorts of guys are willing to play different roles shows that the team is able to win despite trying out just about every line combination on the planet. My guess is that this will all be valuable experience when the playoffs start and a nearly full roster returns. The Sharks know they can run and gun with the best of them and they know they can play it tight if they need to.
As for tonight, it'll be a California love-in as all the Ducks fans want the Sharks to roll over the Oilers in regulation. It's kinda like that scene in Army of Darkness where Arthur's men join Henry's men to fight off the Deadites, except the Oilers aren't led by an undead mutant. Oh wait, they have MacT as their coach. My bad.
In any case, I have mixed feelings about where I want the Ducks to end up. A true Battle of California series would be loads of fun, but the Ducks have enough talent to pull off an upset of any top seed. Hell, I don't think any of the top seeds are particularly safe, and there are no easy picks in the first round. It'd just particularly sting more if the Ducks were the ones to do it. What's a Sharks fan to root for you?
But you know what? For the time being, let's all root for California tonight. Go Sharks! Go Ducks! Go, um, Kings (you show those nasty Coyotes who's boss)!
This weekend, though, crushing the Ducks out of the playoff race will be somewhat bittersweet but oh so satisfying.
Prediction: Sharks 4, Oilers 1. Craig Mactavish accidentally calls an illegal stick on Ales Hemsky and runs off into the night cackling manically.