If Canucks vs. Blackhawks has emerged as the No. 1 playoff rivalry in the Western Conference, Red Wings vs. Sharks has to be No. 1a. The two teams have met in back-to-back postseasons with San Jose eliminating Detroit both times — something Red Wings players and coaches are quite cognizant of as they prepare to face the Sharks tonight at Joe Louis.
“There’s no rivalry or anything, right?” Jimmy Howard asked Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
“These don’t make up for the playoff losses, don’t ever kid yourself,” coach Mike Babcock added. “But they’re coming in here, and we’d like to beat them. They’ve got a good team, we like our team, so let’s see what happens. Let’s have fun.”
Adding to the Sharks-Wings intrigue is the personnel that’s switched allegiances in recent years. Sharks coach Todd McClellan used to be Babcock’s assistant before taking the San Jose job in 2008 and two Wings defensemen — Brad Stuart and Ian White — both logged time in the Bay Area.
All were on hand for last year’s classic Western Conference semifinal, where the Sharks raced out to a 3-0 series lead before Detroit rallied to force an epic Game 7, which you can re-live here:
That Pavel Datsyuk backhand was a nasty piece of business, wasn’t it?
Speaking of Datsyuk, he’s just one of the many Detroit forwards struggling at the moment. The group as a whole has combined for just three goals and six assists in the first seven games and the top line of Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary has just 10 points all told.
The lack of production has made Babcock grumpy, as detailed by Fox Sports Detroit:
Seven days ago, the Red Wings were cruising along with a perfect 5-0 record. They had back-to-back shutouts, balanced scoring and a favorable schedule, which put them in their customary spot — at or near the top of the NHL standings.
Two losses later — to the elite-level Capitals and the hapless Blue Jackets, by a combined score of 11-2 — Detroit coach Mike Babcock is in a cantankerous mood.
“This should have been an off day, they should’ve gone for coffee with their wives,” Babcock said after Wednesday’s up-tempo, physical practice.
“I’ve said this to you guys a million times: It’s a real honest and fair game. If you stand on the right side of the puck, the puck comes to you. If you cheat, you never get any offense. You don’t work hard, you don’t win.”
Angry coach + rivalry game = good times. Should be a fun one tonight at the Joe.