The Vancouver Canucks and their fans might be convinced that a Stanley Cup is in the offing this spring, but one former player remains a skeptic.
"I just feel Vancouver still has a few more lessons to learn, and I'm glad I'm here in San Jose," said Sharks centre Kyle Wellwood, who faces his former mates Thursday at the HP Pavilion. "[The Sharks are]a little more mature. Because they've lost a few more times [in the playoffs] they're not so scared of losing."
The Canucks enter San Jose as the NHL's top team, seven points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, and nine points clear of the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference. The Sharks sit third in the West, 11 points in arrears of Vancouver.
Wellwood referenced Vancouver's inability to get past Chicago in the playoffs, and said the Canucks are not done learning harsh postseason lessons.
"That's going to be a theme for a few years," he said, before adding "that's not to say Vancouver can't win."
Wellwood suggested the pressure of playing in a Canadian market is too much for his ex-teammates to bear. Both Canucks captain Henrik Sedin and centre Ryan Kesler agreed that pressure was an issue last season, when the Canucks fell to the Blackhawks in the second round for a second consecutive year.
"He's got a few points," Sedin said. "I don't think that was the case, but I think it's easy, in a Canadian market, to be afraid to make mistakes. Because you know how much pressure is on you. Instead of going out there and trying to win, you're focused on not making mistakes. I think our team has taken a step, and I don't think we're close to being that way this year.
"Some players are fine with it. For others, there might be too much pressure for them," Sedin continued. "But if you look at the New York Yankees, they won, and I think they have the most pressure in the world."
Kesler said the 2010-11 Canucks were not paralyzed by pressure, or afraid of losing - "that's just false" - but he acknowledged that Wellwood's synopsis of last year's team was not far off.
"That's Welly being Welly -- he says what's on his mind," Kesler said. "I don't know what he means by that, but at least he is speaking the truth…I'm not saying that is true, but he says what's on his mind, and we don't have enough of that in the NHL. It's good to see that."
The Canucks will make two lineup changes against the Sharks, as forward Chris Higgins makes his debut. Higgins, who was acquired at the trade deadline but has been out with a fractured thumb, will skate on the fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Tanner Glass.
Mason Raymond is also in after missing Tuesday's game with a shoulder injury. Raymond returns to his spot on the second line, replacing Jeff Tambellini, who will be a healthy scratch.
Cory Schneider starts in goal for Vancouver, opposed by Antti Niemi for the Sharks.