SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks find themselves in an all-too-familiar position, trailing in a playoff series after dropping a disappointing series opener at home.
Now they need to make sure that the 2-1 loss in Game 1 to the Colorado Avalanche doesn’t turn into an even deeper hole like it did last year in their disappointing first-round loss to Anaheim.
“We talked about overcoming and the need to overcome,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re in that situation. We knew they were going to be a tough team. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy or simple series. Why would it be? They’re a very good team. Our backs aren’t up against the wall. We have to play better and we look to do that in Game 2 on Friday.”
The Sharks spent the days leading up to the series opener talking about how this group of players had never experienced the playoffs together and comparisons to past Sharks teams were unwarranted.
But it’s hard not to dwell on those past failures when history seems to repeat itself every year. The Sharks lost a series opener at home for the fourth straight playoff series, losing Game 1 to the eighth-seeded Avalanche when Chris Stewart’s centring pass deflected off Sharks captain Rob Blake’s skate and into the net for the game-winning goal with 50 seconds left.
The play started when Joe Thornton lost a faceoff in the defensive zone and the Sharks were unable to gain possession of the puck. Along with being on the ice for the deciding goal, Thornton’s line with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley was unable to score a goal against playoff novice Craig Anderson.
The Sharks managed just three shots for the entire second period, getting completely outplayed by a team that had to fight just to make the post-season.
“We have to be better,” said Ryane Clowe, who scored the only goal for San Jose. “This is how playoff hockey is. We were solid defensively but offensively we have to get inside, close to the net and move quickly against a team like that.”
The Sharks have been the second-best team in the NHL the past five years, averaging nearly 109 points per season. But they have failed to make it out of the second round in that span.
They lost three straight second-round series before being knocked off in the first round by Anaheim last season after finishing with the best record in the league. They were just the eighth No. 1 seed to lose a first-round series since this format started in 1994, and are looking to avoid joining the New Jersey Devils of 1998 and ’99 as the only top seed to lose in the opening round in successive seasons.
“I think it’s a must-win situation for us,” Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. “Down 1-0 in the series, lose 2-1, or 7-1, what’s the difference? You can’t expect that a series like this will be high scoring. We have to contain them and take advantage of our chances.”
While the loss only intensified the questions about the Sharks’ playoff prowess, the win was a big confidence builder to a Colorado team that hasn’t had much playoff experience.
The Avalanche weathered a strong start by the Sharks to keep the game scoreless and then recovered after Clowe’s goal tied it midway through the third.
“It shows we can win,” said forward Paul Stastny, who went to the second round two years ago with Colorado and won a silver medal in the Olympics for the United States.
“It’s obviously only one game but it’s a big road win for us. For all these guys playing their first playoff game it’s a heck of an experience. At the same time it’s a whole different level from the regular season. But it’s only going to get tougher. It’s a big Game 1 win. We need to get ready for Game 2.”
Half of the Avalanche lineup for the series opener had never appeared in the playoffs until this season, including Anderson and Stewart.
Colorado finished last in the Western Conference a year ago before turning it around under first-year coach Joe Sacco.
“It’s big knowing we can come into this building and do well,” Stewart said. “We’ll put this behind us and get ready for the second one. We’re so young and we have a bunch of guys who want to win and there’s no time like the present. History has proven the eight seed can come in and win. We’d like to do it again.”