SAN JOSE, Calif. – Let the tweaking begin.
With both teams looking to gain any kind of edge, the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks will do some line shuffling to begin Thursday night’s critical Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at HP Pavilion.
The series is tied at two wins each.
Avalanche center Matt Duchene, a finalist for the Calder Trophy, will skate between veteran Darcy Tucker, who has spent most of the season on the third and fourth lines, and rookie Brandon Yip. Duchene has been playing without his two regular linemates, the injured Milan Hejduk (upper body) and Peter Mueller (concussion).
Sharks coach Todd McLellan broke up his big line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley at this morning’s pregame skate. Torrey Mitchell replaced Heatley with Marleau and Thornton, with Heatley moving to a unit with Manny Malhotra and Logan Couture.
But McLellan wouldn’t commit to using the revamped combinations tonight.
"We’ll see when the game starts," he said. "Don’t read anything into the morning skate. We’ve moved our lines around a little bit now and that may continue."
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said much the same thing.
"I’m always tweaking things, especially now at this time of the year," he said. "You make adjustments on the fly, especially with our injuries. We’ll see. I’ve always been a believer during the course of a game of changing things up, moving players around. We’ll see what happens during the course of the game."
Sacco said forward Kevin Porter, who missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, would replace Chris Durno in the lineup. Defenseman Ryan Wilson will replace Ruslan Salei.
One thing the Avs have done very will is shut down the Sharks' big line. After scoring 103 goals in the regular season, Marleau, Thornton and Heatley have combined for 38 shots in the series but only four assists.
"It’s tight," said Heatley, who missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. "Both teams are playing real hard. You can see that by the scores and the overtimes. That says it all. It’s a tight-checking series with great goaltending on both sides. There have been games in this series where we’ve had a lot of chances. If we keep getting pucks to the net, eventually they’ll go in."
Heatley said he’s fine with switching linemates. He skated with Malhotra and Couture for parts of Game 4.
"All year we’ve been mixed up with different guys," he said. "We were together for the third period and we did a good job of getting it in and creating a little bit down low. We’re going to have to continue doing that tonight."
Even though Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson stopped 94 of 96 shots in the past two games, Marleau said the Sharks aren’t frustrated.
"Obviously we’d like to score a lot more, but he’s playing really well for them, standing tall and holding them in a lot of games," Marleau said. "We just have to stick to our game plan and keep getting pucks to the net, all the stuff that everybody says."