SCHEDULE: Game 1: Thursday, Game 2: Saturday, Game 3: April 16, Game 4: April 18
It’s fitting that the only series that would give the Kings/Golden Knights series a run for its “things I would rather hit myself over the head with a tack hammer than watch” money pits two unbearable monoliths against one another. The Sharks are looking for their first Cup ever while the Ducks are looking to make one more run with the Perry–Getzlaf–Kesler Connection in a matchup that only Gary Bettman has frothy loins over. Let’s get to the on-ice equivalent of that image here.
Goalies: John Gibson proved his mettle this year with the Ducks, posting a sparkling 92.6 SV% over 60 games. There’s only one goaltender with a better save percentage and at least 50 games under his belt on the year, and that’s Ol’ Shit Hip down in Nashville. And Gibson got his beak wet in the playoffs last year, with 16 starts, a 9-5 record, and a 91.8 SV% before bowing out late in the Nashville series. The only question now is will he make the bell, as he’s been nursing an upper body injury since April 1. He’s expected to go tonight, but if not, they’ll have Ryan “Kane for” Miller in the crease. Miller’s been on a bit of a hot streak, giving up just four goals over his last three starts against the Wild, Stars, and Coyotes, including a shutout of the Coyotes in the last game of the year. They’d much prefer Gibson you assume, but they aren’t entirely up shit creek if he needs to sit the first one out.
The Sharks will throw Martin Jones in their own crease, whose career similarity score compares him most closely to John Gibson. IT’S LIKE I’M SEEING DOUBLE: FOUR KRUSTYS. After pitching seven straight wins to the tune of a 91.9 SV% in mid-to-late March, Jones has gone a bit cold, going 1-4 with an 87.4 SV%, including allowing five goals on 19 shots against Minnesota last Saturday. But Jones has a habit of showing up when it counts, as reflected in his career 92.5 SV% and 2.01 GAA over 32 playoff games.
Defense: The Most Appropriately Named Player for His Team, Cam Fowler, is going to miss the entire round and perhaps more if the Ducks find their way out, which throws oil on an already average-at-best defensive corps. Once you get past HAMPUS! HAMPUS! and Josh Manson, you start entering “They have guys who can play minutes” territory in Francois Beauchemin—who figures to be as quiet as most of the letters in his name—Brandon Montour, Marcus Pettersson, and Andy Welinski, who’s played all of seven games this year, and only three in 2018.
The Sharks corps will live and die by Brent Burns and his “I promise not to skin you alive in a secluded cave” aura. Beyond him are the criminally underappreciated Vlasic and Justin BRRRRAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUN, who coupled their shutdown pairing ways with respective 32 and 28 point seasons. There isn’t much hiding from the Sharks D-corps, and it’s here that you can expect the Sharks to pull away.
Forwards: For what seems like the trillionth, and mercifully and hopefully final time, the big bag of ass-hair clippings known as Corey Perry will skate alongside Bald Asshole Ryan Getzlaf in this playoff series. Along with Rickard Rakell, this line will probably see a whole lot of Pickles and Braun, which doesn’t bode well for Corey Perry’s tiny-faced, hair-trigger temper or Getzlaf’s “Good When It Doesn’t Matter” playoff play style. And you’ll no doubt hear all about Ryan Kesler’s “spirit” and “ability to get under opponents’ skin” because once you get past the fact that he’s a giant pissbaby, there’s not much more to say about him. He’s hurt, he sucks, and he’ll take a bad penalty when it matters. The third-line of Ritchie–Henrique–Kase will need to do some sneaky damage, as they have the best chance of avoiding the Sharks defensive buzzsaw in the Top 4.
The Sharks have one of the better on-paper Top 9s in the league, especially now that The Other Asshat Kane has joined the top line. He’s been nursing an arm injury but expects to play tonight. The third line of Meier–Tierney–Labanc has all the potential in the world to turn the series, as each had 35+ point seasons and all are 23 or under. Tierney is the only one with extensive playoff experience, but I suspect that Hampus and Manson will get saddled with the Pavelski and Couture lines, leaving this line space to make magic. And there’s the outside chance that Jumbo Joe makes his HBK from the rafters appearance at some point, but that’s far from a guarantee.
Prediction: This series has all the appeal and intrigue of treating an impetigo infection in your armpit. The Ducks are coming in hot, having won 10 of their last 12 and five of their last six, but if they’re asking Miller to do anything more than spot start, they’re going to have trouble. The Sharks defense and special teams figures to be the difference maker, especially if Martin Jones does Martin Jones-y things in the playoffs. The Sharks still have that late-aughts Cubs feel to them, but that oughtn’t rear its head until at least the second round. Sharks in 7.