VANCOUVER – If the San Jose Sharks were used car salesmen working on commission they’d be cashing pretty thin paycheques these days.
Whether it’s the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs or the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference final, they’ve had trouble closing the deal.
Third periods have been their nemesis and Sunday’s 3-2 series-opening loss to the Canucks was no different.
They’ve either entered a third period with the lead or been tied while losing four of their last five games. They blew a 3-0 series advantage against Detroit before a nail-biting Game 7 victory.
“I don’t feel uncomfortable with a lead, that’s where I want to be,”defenceman Dan Boyle said Monday after Canuck goals 79 seconds apart forged Sunday’s loss in the final 20 minutes.
“We’ve got to find a way to finish people off. I think maybe getting that next goal. With a one-goal lead you try to get the next goal without giving anything up.”
But that’s exactly what they did.
Kevin Bieksa tied the game in the third period with an uncontested 30-foot wrist shot. Henrik Sedin won it on the power play.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, consider this:
In Game 4 against Detroit, the Sharks fell behind 3-0 in the first period, rallied to tie on Dany Heatley’s goal 1:14 into the final 20 minutes only to lose 4-3.
In Game 5 they took a 2-1 lead into the third period and Logan Couture made it 3-1. They lost 4-3, giving up two goals in less than two minutes.
Detroit forced a seventh game after Couture gave San Jose a 1-0 lead early in the third period of Game 6.
Goals 1:54 apart by Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula sank the Sharks who went on to lose 3-1.
“The good news is we had a 2-1 lead in the third period,”coach Todd McLellan said of Sunday’s defeat.
“We lost it but we definitely had our B game on display. We’d like to find that A game again.”
That means winning late-game puck battles.
“We were slow, we didn’t get to the battles we needed to get to and quite frankly when we got there we were out-battled,”McLellan said.“That will have to change.”
Skating was optional for the Sharks on Monday. Looking at video of those lost battles was not.
“I don’t even think we’ve changed the style of play,”said Couture, a rookie-of-the-year candidate who is tied for the team lead with six playoff goals after 32 in the regular season.
“Last night we just turned pucks over. We looked at some video this morning. We had so many turnovers in the third period and you can’t do it against that team. They’re too good.”
McLellan said his club rallied from three- and four-goal deficits earlier in the playoffs.
“A lot of times it’s managing the puck, putting it in right areas so that you feel good about your game and not all your energy is wasted in the defensive zone.
“In past games when we’ve been able to come back we’ve done that.”
Wide-bodied defenceman Douglas Murray said summoning the energy to shepherd home a lead isn’t a problem, despite a hard-fought, seven-game series against the Wings.
“It’s a lot easier than the regular season, absolutely,”Murray said.“There’s a lot more at stake.
“This is what you work for all year. It’s much easier now than Game 32.
The key is playing smart and not nursing a lead.
“It’s a puck-possession game these days and you can’t be sitting back or it usually ends up going the wrong way,”Murray said.
“I think we’re better when we play aggressive and hard on the forecheck. The forecheck is what has made us successful (with) offensive zone time and I don’t think we’ve got enough of that.”
Boyle, who led all players with 25:02 of ice time on Sunday, agrees.
“That’s where all the parties are going to happen,”he said of playing in the opposition’s end.“We weren’t there.”
NOTES: Canuck coach Alain Vigneault celebrated his 50th birthday with Sunday’s win … Sedin’s power-play winner was the Canucks’first man-advantage goal at home in 19 tries.