SAN JOSE, Calif. — When the San Jose Sharks hired former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan as their head coach two years ago, they were looking to duplicate some of the post-season success the Red Wings had enjoyed.
Now they get to find out if the imitation is as good as the original when the two teams meet in a Western Conference second-round series beginning tonight in San Jose.
McLellan brought over many of the philosophies he learned in Detroit under coach Mike Babcock, most notably a strong emphasis on puck possession.
“It’s a copycat league,” Sharks defenceman Douglas Murray said. “It always has been and probably always will be. When you have successful franchises like Detroit, teams are going to copy it. If it’s successful why not try to use it?”
The one thing the Sharks haven’t been able to emulate is Detroit’s post-season success. The Sharks have not made it past the second round in their past four trips to the post-season, including a second-round loss to the Red Wings in 2007.
A playoff rematch has seemed inevitable because of how much talent both teams have. But early exits the past two seasons by San Jose have delayed that.
“They play a similar style to us,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve been facing them a lot the last few years in the playoffs. It’s usually a really good series. It’s well-played hockey and it’s exciting for the fans.”
Despite being the two best teams in the NHL since the start of the 2005-06 season, the 2007 series is the only post-season meeting in that span.
The Red Wings were knocked out in the first round by Edmonton in 2006, the Sharks fell in the second round to Dallas in 2008 with the Red Wings waiting in the Western Conference finals and San Jose lost in the first round last season despite having the best record in the NHL.
Now they meet again in a rematch of the 2007 series that still leaves a bitter taste for many San Jose followers. The Sharks had a 2-1 series lead and a one-goal lead in the final minute at home in Game 4.
But with Dominik Hasek pulled for an extra skater and Patrick Marleau looking for an empty-net goal, Robert Lang scored the equalizer with 33.1 seconds left in regulation. Mathieu Schneider scored in overtime to tie the series and the Red Wings won the final two games 4-1 and 2-0 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
That’s just one of many playoff disappointments in recent years for the Sharks.
“That is our reputation right now,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “You got to work extremely hard to change your reputation once something happens. A lot of us in that room have only been to the second round. I mean, a few guys won Cups. We know that experience. But it’s something, you always got to reprove yourself every year.”