DETROIT – We aren’t quite ready yet to declare the San Jose Sharks a playoff juggernaut. They’ve made us look absolutely ridiculous too many times in the past and we refuse to be burned by them again.
No, we’re still going to wait until the Sharks at least leave everything on the ice in a Western Conference final. And once they do that, we will continue to cast our doubting eye at the Washington Capitals, who seem completely and utterly incapable of showing any resolve in difficult situations.
(Just a thought here, but if Bruce Boudreau is behind the Capitals bench next season and not behind the desk as an in-studio analyst for TSN, I will seriously consider eating my laptop.)
But, boy oh boy, are the Sharks ever beginning to make believers out of a lot of people. The team and franchise that was once so fragile and one bad break away from complete self destruction is exactly halfway to tying the Montreal Canadiens record in 1993 of 10 overtime playoff wins.
The Sharks got their fifth OT win of the playoffs Wednesday night in a 4-3 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings thanks to the hot stick of Devin Setoguchi, but if the mark of a team that has overcome its fragility is that it starts winning instead of losing games in which it is outplayed, the Sharks have indeed arrived.
In truth, the Sharks had absolutely no business winning Game 3 against the Red Wings. Both coaches said as much after the game. But the fact the Sharks came from behind once again, that they called on their resolve and got vintage performances from their most talented players is a positive sign. So is the fact they managed to escape with a win in a game in which they were outplayed for the most part.
“They found a way,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “That’s what good teams do.”
Aside from the result, it’s fair to say the Sharks were a little less than pleased with their overall play. After the game, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was just as upset with Setoguchi’s two penalties as he was with his three goals and said the team leaned on too few players. But then again, there are times when your star players, the ones who get paid the most, have to carry the effort.
“We didn’t have enough polish and we didn’t have enough players, quite frankly,” McLellan said. “We got away with one and we have to be better.”
If this series continues to play out as astonishingly similar to last year as it has, the Sharks better heed that advice. It was a year ago to the day that the Sharks took a similar 3-0 stranglehold on the series against the Wings after coming back from a third period deficit to win 4-3 in overtime in Game 3. But two days later, the Red Wings staved off elimination by completely dominating the Sharks in a 7-1 win in Game 4.
“There’s no reason to keep this series going,” said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, who tied the score late in the third period with his first goal of the playoffs. “We came out flat in the last series against L.A. when we had a chance to finish them off. Nothing good can come from having to finish this series. We have to finish it when we can.”
Boyle indeed has a point there. If the Sharks can sweep the Red Wings, that means they will have made it through the first two rounds in just 10 games and the lower mileage on their bodies will come in handy, particularly with the possibility the Nashville-Vancouver series is a long one and the two conference semifinals in the East both possibly being won in sweeps. (One could argue, though, that the Philadelphia Flyers have the Boston Bruins exactly where they want them at the moment.)
Even if the Sharks come up short in Game 4 Friday night, it’s almost impossible to envision them not winning this series. The Red Wings are proud and willing, but the fact is they are depressingly unable against a Sharks team that is bigger, faster, stronger and more equipped to win big games.
Wait a minute, did I just write that? Yup. And if the Sharks continue to play the way they have, a lot of people will begin to believe it.
When games go into overtime, though, you have to think the Sharks look around their dressing room and feel pretty good about their chances. They have a lot of talented players who can end the game in an instant and with every overtime win, their confidence in tight games continues to snowbank.
“We like our team,” Boyle said. “We like what we have. We like our goalie, we like our D-men and we like our forwards. We like what we have here and I like the character, too. Guys are doing a lot of things to find ways.”
And when was the last time anyone could say that about the Sharks?