|Sharks embrace 'underdog' role vs. expansion Knights|
LAS VEGAS -- The San Jose Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals just two years ago, losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So you'd think Peter DeBoer's squad might be a little ticked off to be cast in the role of the underdog against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights when they meet in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs starting Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Instead, the Sharks seem to welcome the fact that the Golden Knights, who cruised to the Pacific Division title with 109 points, are solid betting favorites to move on to the Western Conference finals.
"I know we're going to be heavy, heavy underdogs," DeBoer said with a big smile after his team swept the Anaheim Ducks in four games in the first round. "Hopefully you write that, and we go from there."
Vegas, which swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, won the season series with the Sharks (3-0-1), although two of the games were decided in overtime and another by just one goal.
"If you look at years past I think it's nice for us to be an underdog," San Jose defenseman Brenden Dillon told nhl.com. "They've been one of the best teams from Day 1 of the season, a team we have a lot of respect for and a team with a high-end offense. They're feeling good about their game, and we're going have to be at our best."
Vegas is 31-10-2 at home but will be facing a veteran San Jose squad that is 22-14-7 on the road, outscoring Anaheim 6-2 in two wins at the Honda Center.
Both teams have playoff-proven goaltenders who come in hot. San Jose's Martin Jones was 4-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, a shutout and a glossy .970 save percentage in the sweep of the Ducks. Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights, a key member on three Stanley Cup-winning teams in Pittsburgh, was even more impressive against the Kings, compiling a 0.65 GAA and .977 save percentage to go with two shutouts.
A big key in Thursday night's opener could be which team can shake off the rust quicker. Vegas will be playing its first game in nine days since polishing off the Kings 1-0 behind 31 saves by Fleury on April 17 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. San Jose will be taking the ice for the first time in eight days after edging visiting Anaheim 2-1 behind a 30-save performance by Jones on April 18 at SAP Center.
"I think the plus (of the long break) would probably be the rest, healing your body from the bumps and bruises a little bit," Fleury said. "But it's so long, though. We had great momentum going. Now we have to wait and see."
"They're in the same boat so that's the good thing," Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm glad we're not playing a team that just finished up a series and had two or three days off. We had an extra day more than them. ... It's going to be tough, but the players are going to be ready, they're fired up. It's a playoff game, not a regular-season game."