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Pacific
SARAH KWAK
October 04, 2010
WESTERN CONFERENCE PACIFIC
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October 04, 2010

Pacific

WESTERN CONFERENCE PACIFIC

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THE BOOK on the Sharks never seems to change: strong and impressive in the regular season but a collapse waiting to happen in the postseason. There's a reason nobody makes them a Stanley Cup favorite anymore. After making a run to the conference finals last spring, San Jose meekly surrendered to the Blackhawks in four games. Looking back at the series, Sharks G.M. Doug Wilson feels his club was overwhelmed by Chicago's depth, its elite forwards and the stout play of goalie Antti Niemi.

That explains why Wilson signed the 27-year-old Finnish netminder last month. Wilson also landed Niemi's countryman Antero Niittymaki, who sports a butterfly style and fills the net with his 6'1", 190-pound frame. The pair will replace longtime Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, whose last three postseasons had been pedestrian at best (.904 save percentage) and who signed with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL in July.

Wilson also hopes that some of the younger players on his roster (specifically forwards Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski) are ready to provide the kind of depth it takes to win a championship; Pavelski, a breakout player in the postseason with 15 points in San Jose's first nine games, certainly seems capable. The trio gives the Sharks more options beyond their Jumbo Line of right wing Dany Heatley (39 goals in 2009--10), center Joe Thornton (69 assists) and left wing Patrick Marleau (44 goals). And while San Jose's blue line took a hit with the retirement of 40-year-old captain Rob Blake, the opening provides an opportunity for youngsters Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 23, and Jason Demers, 22, to make a greater impact.

How successful the Sharks are from October to April, though, matters little; the true measure of this team won't be taken until the spring. "We took a step last year, but it's still not good enough," says defenseman Dan Boyle of San Jose's first appearance in the conference finals in six years. "The expectations are higher than that."

LOS ANGELES

Kings

COACH

Terry Murray (3rd season)

LAST SEASON

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