In the press conference after a win over the Calgary Flames in their last game, coach Todd McLellan was clearly already focused on the next. The San Jose Sharks visit a familiar Western Conference rival Detroit Red Wings Monday, October 21.
This rivalry dates back to the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs. With a stunning win over the top seed in the Western Conference in the first round, San Jose arrived. That was made possible by a first realignment that brought the conference structure used throughout the next two, including the one this summer that finally put Eastern Time Zone Detroit into the Eastern Conference.
The Sharks later lost in the 2007 Western Conference semifinals to the Wings after being 33 seconds from a 3-1 lead in the series. Some of the players date back that far: Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski were stand-out rookies, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were around and Scott Hannan left and now has come back.
Several Wings were also around for that series: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Niklas Kronwall have remained with the team. Like Hannan, Mikael Samuelsson left and came back to them.
In the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Sharks started getting the upper hand. Their huge overtime win in the previously impervious Joe Louis Arena that has become their second home in the regular season (only one loss in six visits since) gave them a commanding 3-0 series lead. They lost the next game badly, but rebounded to take the series at home.
San Jose took another 3-0 lead over Detroit in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, only to require all seven games to end it because the players relaxed with a two-goal lead in the third period of the first closing game. Nevertheless, they have won 17 of the last 23 contests.
Adding to the rivalry is McLellan's history as an assistant with Detroit when they were winning this rivalry and the Stanley Cup. Almost every player on both benches has been involved in some of that, including Stuart being on the wrong side of that rivalry for the last several years before returning to San Jose. A large number of players involved in the last two playoff series remain.
The Wings moving to the Eastern Conference may have been the best thing for the Western Conference, but it is not great for the Sharks. Losing not only an important rival but one over whom they have an edge is a disappointing consequence on sensible realignment. Besides, this rivalry is not going away just because the number of contests has been limited to two each season.
Detroit is playing well (6-3-0), but not as well as San Jose (7-0-1). Still, as much as the intangible edge and confidence carry a team, games are won and lost by personnel covered by the photo list.