The turning point in this year’s playoffs for the San Jose Sharks occurred on the last day of the regular season. The Sharks now know that was the day their playoff fate was sealed.
When the St. Louis Blues defeated the Colorado Avalanche 1-0 in Game 82, it ended an improbable run that vaulted the Blues into sixth place in the Western Conference. It also dropped the Anaheim Ducks down to eighth place in the West and gave the Sharks their worst possible opponent in the first round.
Imagine that. You win the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the regular season and you’re rewarded by drawing the Ducks in the first round. If the Sharks had drawn either the St. Louis Blues or Columbus Blue Jackets, there’s a good chance they’d be sitting pretty in the first round this season instead of looking like the playoff disappointments they’ve been for the better part of a decade.
Hey, nobody said life was fair. And make no mistake, there’s almost nothing fair about the fact the Sharks go to southern California down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. The Sharks have not been that bad in this series. They have been inspired for the most part (although they have had no ability to maintain momentum or keep any sustained pressure on the Ducks). Their goaltending has been excellent and Joe Thornton accomplished more in his first shift in Game 2 than he did in all of Game 1.
It’s certainly not fair that Jonas Hiller is playing better than he ever has in his life. It’s not fair that Scott Niedermayer didn’t stay retired and is a dominating force in this series. It’s not fair the Sharks have worked this hard and have absolutely nothing but moral victories to show for their efforts.
But what exactly is up with these guys? Thornton was much better in Game 2, but he has to be even better. He has to be more net directed; he has to take control of the game. Patrick Marleau has to be way, way better. To be sure, though, they haven’t been as good as the Ducks’ top line of Ryan Getzlaf between Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. And if the Sharks want to give the Ducks the series on a platter, all they have to do is to continue to allow the Ducks to play to their advantage.
First, the way Hiller is playing, the Ducks are not going to lose if the Sharks don’t go to the net with more speed. They’re not going to lose if the Sharks don’t start jamming the net and get a lot more gumption in their game when it comes to driving to the crease. And they’re not going to lose if they continue to be successful in so easily pushing the Sharks to the perimeter.
But most of all, the Ducks will not lose unless the Sharks begin to make them pay for playing an aggressive game. Through the first two games of the series, the Sharks are 0-for-12 on the power play and their lack of success with the extra man and in the faceoff circle is killing them. They are not getting pucks deep enough and they’re not putting any pressure on the Ducks penalty killing. They don’t attack the zone with speed and they’re not putting the puck in places where they’re going to cause the Ducks any problems. If you aren’t going to make the Ducks pay by getting some power play goals, then that gives the Ducks the confidence to continue to play a very difficult game without worrying about being burned for it.
So now we’ll find out whether or not all the changes the Sharks made have made any difference at all. Here is the playoff adversity they were supposed to be more equipped to handle. It will tell us everything about the character make-up of the Sharks when we see how they respond in Game 3.
The way the Ducks are playing, perhaps it won’t matter. After all, this is not an eighth-place team.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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