On the heels of their incredible comebacks -- first to force a Game 7 and then win it in amazing fashion -- the San Jose Sharks now must regroup and reload.
The reward for upending the Vegas Golden Knights in their opening-round Stanley Cup Playoff series is a date with the Colorado Avalanche, a team that needed just five games to convincingly oust the Western Conference champs, the Calgary Flames.
"I was watching almost every game between Colorado and Calgary, and they actually surprised me how well they played against Calgary," Sharks center Tomas Hertl told the San Jose Mercury News. "They were flying."
Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal kicks off Thursday in San Jose, featuring a pair of clubs that surprisingly made it past the first round.
The Avalanche, who clinched the final wild card spot in the West, dominated the Flames in their series, led by the forward trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
"You have to ready for their top line," Hertl said. "MacKinnon is one of the best players in the NHL. That line -- Rantanen, Landeskog -- they almost owned the series. Young team, a lot of speed and we have to be ready."
The Sharks trailed their series with Vegas 3-1 and then were down 3-0 nearing the midway point of the third period of Game 7 on Tuesday when they scored four power-play goals during a five-minute advantage, surrendered their lead in the final minute of regulation and then won on Barclay Goodrow's goal late in overtime.
"A once-in-a-lifetime game," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "I don't think my heart can take another one like that."
San Jose captain Joe Pavelski was knocked from the game on the play that resulted in the major penalty, the result of hitting the back of his head on the ice.
Coach Pete DeBoer said on Thursday that Pavelski is day-to-day but unlikely to play in the opener.
San Jose won all three regular-season meetings between the clubs.
"They are a tough team, no question. They have given us trouble all year," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar told NHL.com. "Playoffs is a different scenario, right? You start over from scratch, and it's best of seven. There are adjustments to be made in the middle of the series. Our goal will be to go in there and have a real good start and pick up where we left off against Calgary."
The Sharks and Avs have met four times in the playoffs, with each team winning twice. San Jose has claimed the past two series, the most recent one in 2010.
"I think not too many people would have us in this position at this point in the year, but I think in our room we believe," Bednar said. "I think one of the biggest things is if you want to win, you got to believe you can win. We have touched on that, based on last year's playoff performance and how we wanted to come into this year with a purpose. To me, it even has to go a step up now. Our guys should be confident based on the way we played down the stretch and then the playoffs."
Thanks to their long layoff between games, the Avalanche expect forward Derick Brassard (illness) back in the lineup for the opener, while defenseman Samuel Girard (upper body) is a possibility.
--Field Level Media
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