1. What will your team need to do to beat the San Jose Sharks?
Um, win. No, seriously. WIN. Anaheim only nabbed two wins out of the six showdowns we had with San Jose this year. In two of those four losses, San Jose successfully shut down all offensive attempts and shut us out. We're gonna need all our boys taking every possible shot and really working to get that puck past Nabokov. The series, if the year was any indication, will be a pretty physical one and since Anaheim's never been a team to take bullying all to lightly, they'll need to be aware of their tempers and reactions. By no means do I mean to say that the Ducks ought to settle back into some kind of comfy zone. No. In fact, I want them to crash and bang bodies all over the Shark Tank... I just want them to do it without elbowing someone in the head, slashing someone's face, or taking a penalty pile-up and migrating the bench to the box. They'll have to be physical without being stupid, and they'll definitely need to find a way to get past Evgeni Nabokov. Oh, and they need to keep that puck off the stick of Jonathan Cheechoo and Big Joe Thornton. I'd be wary of Michalek too.
2. What would need to happen for San Jose to win?
If San Jose shuts down Anaheim's offense, we're done-for. Or, if Anaheim's netminder (whoever gets the nod) collapses in net, we're totally screwed. San Jose doesn't seem to have a problem getting past the first round, but going deeper than that has historically proven to be very daunting for them. The last time San Jose lost in the first round was 2001 to St. Louis. For Anaheim, the first round early exit is still a fresh memory from last season when the defending Cup champions were unceremoniously given the boot by the Dallas Stars. San Jose may need to get down and dirty to dominate Anaheim before they can swim away from this first round, but like Gatorade asks, "Is it in you?" No, Sharkies, I think not.
3. Fan Favorite
The Ducks are pretty packed with fan favorites, beginning with the flashy, cheeky Fin Teemu Selanne and spanning the bench to the big-hearted brawler with a brain-behind-the-'Stache, George Parros. You can't discount the fandom power of fearless leader Scott Niedermayer, who gets the job done one way or another, or fever-pitch fan-love for all things Bobby Ryan who's just about usurped the place of Ryan Getzlaf in the hearts of teenyboppers everywhere. (Hey, it sort of helps that B-Ry's got hair and Getzy's got that glaring bald spot working against him.) Perhaps a personal playoff fan favorite would be Francois Beauchemin, who's been missing much of this season with a torn ACL, but came back to play in the home closer in front of a crowd that cheered his every stride on the ice! Beauch is a big boomer who's past playoff performance nicknames include "Boom Boom" and "Rocky" thanks to instrumental huge hits he'd punish the opposing team with, not to mention that fantastic house-rocking fight he had with Jarome Iginla that is still considered a pivotal turning point in the series -- and perhaps, even the fate -- of Anaheim's 2006 run.
4. Your team's Goat-to-Be
This is probably going to sound ridiculous, but I don't have a goat-to-be anymore. In fact, perhaps the only person I am nervous about when they touch the puck are the netminders. Why? Because there have been a number of blunders behind the net when a goalie is trying to handle the puck -- or even when a netminder makes a decision to play the puck and it ends up backfiring. The playoffs sometimes have what seems like an inordinate amount of odd bounces, strange goals, and goalie miscues or misplays. I shudder each time I think about a goaltender doing anything else except stopping the puck! How many times have I seen a goalie accidentally pass off the puck to an opposing forward who then scores on a defenseless net? How many times have I seen a goaltender get caught out of position when he was just trying to clear the puck from behind the net? No, no, no... that's the stuff of nightmares, my friend.
5. Top storyline
The San Jose-Anaheim showdown will be the first time ever that these teams have battled against one another in the post-season. Why is that a big story? Well, none of the three California teams have ever squared off with one another, and the last true Battle of California happened with a team I never knew existed. The Oakland Seals played the Los Angeles Kings in 1969, back when the Kings were, you know, kind of good. And I wasn't even born yet, so it's like it never happened -- at least in Finny-land. Nevermind that this is the #1 team in the league vs. the #8 Western seed, these teams already have an established division rivalry going for them. Playoffs will only deepen the despise each teem feels for the other, and fuel fueds between the fans. For once, California hockey might get a little raucous as each fandom wages its own private war against each other in one another's respective arena -- surely since the teams are separated by a mere 6-hour-drive, there are bound to be fans of each team present in both arenas. This one is bound to be physical and for the passionate fans residing in sunny California, it just might cross over into personal. May the better fandom and team (ahem, ANAHEIM) win!