Canucks-Sharks Preview

Having continued to fall short in their quest for a first

Stanley Cup, the Vancouver Canucks are hoping that John Tortorella

can finally lead them to that long-awaited title.

The Cup-winning coach begins his tenure with the Canucks in

Thursday night’s visit to the San Jose Sharks, who also are hoping

this is finally the season they capture their first

championship.

Vancouver won 313 regular-season games and six Northwest

Division titles in its seven campaigns under Alain Vigneault, but a

second straight opening-round playoff defeat – a four-game sweep to

the Sharks – was enough for the franchise to make a change. In an

interesting twist, the Canucks and Rangers essentially swapped

coaches after Tortorella was fired by New York.

Tortorella has 410 wins to his credit and something else the

Canucks desire, the experience of winning a Cup with Tampa Bay in

2004.

“I’m anxious – a good anxious. You want to get going,”

Tortorella told the league’s website. “I want to see what the team

looks like. I want to see how they react in different situations.

… We’re playing for the real stuff here.”

The new coach has a group of players who came within one win of

realizing that goal in 2011 against Boston, but his success could

hinge on the performance of one in particular, goaltender Roberto

Luongo.

Luongo’s exit from the franchise looked imminent with Cory

Schneider getting the majority of the starts last season. It was

Schneider, though, who was shipped to New Jersey for a first-round

draft pick in June after Vancouver failed again to find a taker for

the high-priced Luongo.

“Given what’s happened over the last little while it’s nice to

get a fresh start here and know you’re the No. 1 again and just

play hockey,” Luongo said.

Luongo’s goals-against average has steadily risen since a

career-best 2.11 in 2010-11 and his 2.56 mark last season nearly

matched his highest in seven seasons in Vancouver. His .907 save

percentage was his worst since his 1999-00 rookie season with the

New York Islanders.

“I’m totally confident. He’s a pro. He’s in good shape. He’s

played very well in camp,” Tortorella said.

Luongo did not face the Sharks in the 2012-13 regular season,

but lost both starts against them in the playoffs.

San Jose, however, is coming off another playoff disappointment

of its own after falling in seven games to Los Angeles in the

Western Conference semifinals. The Sharks have won 10 playoff

series during their streak of nine consecutive appearances – the

last five under Todd McLellan – but have yet to reach the Cup

finals.

Unlike Vancouver’s No. 1 goaltender, Antti Niemi is coming off

one of his best seasons. The Finnish netminder posted a career-low

2.16 GAA while going 24-12-6 during the lockout-shortened campaign

and was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

The Sharks will also have a full season with a roster that

emphasizes speedier and more physical play than puck possession. To

help, they acquired forward Tyler Kennedy from Pittsburgh and

signed 2012 first-round draft pick Tomas Hertl.

“Our coaches are pretty excited to continue where we left off

last year, and we have a clear view of how we want to play,”

general manager Doug Wilson told the league’s website. “You know,

that north/south attacking game. The players that we’ve added

certainly fit that mold.”

In addition to its playoff sweep of the Canucks, the Sharks won

all three regular-season meetings in 2012-13.

Niemi started in all seven of those games and posted a 1.76

GAA.