The Sharks won six of their first seven playoff games last spring, but collapsed in the second round after Edmonton won Game 3 on a triple-overtime score by Shawn Horcoff. San Jose’s momentum was irrevocably halted, and the Oilers rolled to four straight wins.
On Saturday, the Sharks were 20 minutes shy of a dramatic two-game sweep to start the clubs’ second-round playoff series – until the Red Wings awoke for Dan Cleary’s early short-handed goal and Pavel Datsyuk’s heartbreaking winner with 1:24 left in Detroit’s 3-2 victory.
A familiar script? Not to Cheechoo, who believes the current Team Teal is smarter and more resilient than last season’s squad. With veteran experience added to last year’s memories, the Sharks believe they’ll respond to their only major disappointment so far in the young playoffs when they hit the ice for Game 3 on Monday night.
“You’re going to hit snags along the way,” Cheechoo said after the Sharks’ light practice at their training complex Sunday. “I’ve never seen anybody run all the way through the playoffs. We just want to keep working and taking advantage of what we can do.”
Yet the top-seeded Red Wings must feel a whole lot better about their chances against the ballyhooed Sharks, who rolled over Nashville in the first round and outplayed Detroit for long stretches of the first two games.
“The experience factor was important,” said Dan Cleary, who was called the Red Wings’ best player in the playoffs by coach Mike Babcock. “The guys have good composure and we don’t panic.”
Detroit turned away two San Jose power plays in the third period of Game 2 before Datsyuk and his teammates took advantage of a series of minor Sharks miscues that left the Russian scorer alone in front for a backhand goal.
“Now it’s a best-of-five,” Babcock said. “We should loosen up, relax and get playing. I thought we showed some good leadership in our room and showed some good mental toughness to stick to it.”
Now the Sharks’ mental toughness will be tested in front of another frenzied sellout crowd at the Shark Tank – and San Jose has passed nearly every test in that area so far this season.
The Sharks have won nine of their last 11 home games, losing only two overtime decisions to Vancouver. They played two model home games against the Predators in the first round, constantly outworking Nashville in both contests for deceptively narrow victories.
That work ethic carried over to Detroit, but Sharks coach Ron Wilson bemoaned a handful of lapses that turned Game 2 in the Red Wings’ favour. San Jose limited Detroit’s offence to 22 shots Saturday – a total that wouldn’t be out of place in a single period for the high-powered Wings.
“We got a split in Detroit, we totally limited their offence, and we were so close to scoring the third goal (in Game 2) it was unbelievable,” Wilson said. “You’re not going to keep them off the board long, and we know they’ll be better. We have to be better.”
Wilson will put rookie centre Joe Pavelski back in his lineup for Game 3, probably in place of Mark Bell. He doesn’t plan to change anything else about the Sharks’ effort, hoping the same style and intensity will get an added boost from the home crowd.
Joe Thornton, who leads the club with nine points in an outstanding post-season so far, will remain in charge of the Sharks’ slumping power play, which dropped to 3-for-37 in the playoffs after an 0-for-6 performance in Game 2. Wilson and Thornton are resisting the urge to panic so early in a long spring.
“I thought we did good getting a split, but we had a chance to do something that a lot of teams could never do in Detroit,” said Cheechoo, finally got his first goal of the post-season in Game 2. “We have to concentrate for the full 60 minutes and do what makes us successful.”