SAN JOSE, Calif. – Coach Todd McLellan preached the importance of being able to overcome obstacles before the San Jose Sharks opened the post-season.
The top-seeded Sharks proved they could do just that in a tougher-than-expected first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche. They overcame deficits in games and the series, fluky bounces and bad breaks before finally knocking out the eighth-seeded Avalanche with a 5-2 victory in Game 6 in Denver on Saturday night.
“We faced adversity, faced overtime games, close games and now we are moving on,” defenceman Dan Boyle said after scoring the game-tying goal in the third period Saturday. “You know you are going to have your ups and downs in a playoff series. You are going to fall behind in a playoff game and you can’t quit.”
Boyle was the central figure in the lowest moment of the series. San Jose outshot Colorado 50-16 in regulation of Game 3 only to be forced to go to overtime because Craig Anderson turned aside every shot.
Then in the opening minute of the extra session, Boyle innocently tried to send the puck around the boards to teammate Douglas Murray in his own end of the ice. But Ryan O’Reilly stuck his stick in the way at the last instant, catching enough of the puck to redirect it between goalie Evgeni Nabokov and the right post to give Colorado the victory and a 2-1 series lead.
But instead of folding as they have in past playoff disappointments, the bad bounce seemed to galvanize the Sharks around their star defenceman as they won the final three games of the series.
“Danny Boyle has been there all year for us,” said captain Rob Blake, who had his own tough moment when the game-winning goal in Game 1 was redirected off his skate and into the net. “He stepped up when we needed it. He got us into it and then we took over.”
Boyle scored the first goal early in Game 4 to help San Jose even the series with a 2-1 overtime win and the Sharks dominated in a 5-0 victory in Game 5 at home. Then after falling behind 2-1 early in the third period of Game 6, Boyle scored the tying goal to start a run of four straight San Jose goals that sent it into the second round.
Now the “nightmare” that was Game 3 for Boyle will be mostly a footnote to this series.
“You never get over something like that,” said Boyle, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. “You grow from every situation. I’ve been in the league for 11 or 12 years now and that was something new for me.”
Boyle had a strong series with two goals, four assists and a plus-5 rating. But the key for the series was the play of what had been San Jose’s second line.
Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe combined for nine goals and 13 assists for the series, outshining the more heralded gold medal line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, which managed only one goal for San Jose.
Pavelski scored the game-tying goal in the final minute of Game 2, erasing the fifth one-goal deficit of the game, before Setoguchi won it in overtime. Pavelski scored the overtime winner in Game 4 and the game-winner in the third period in Game 6 as he led all players with five goals in the series.
“There was not going to be any quit on our part,” Pavelski said. “We wanted this one. We knew we were going to get our chances, a couple of chances. Let’s bury them when we get the opportunity and they went in.”
Now all the Sharks can do is wait to find out their second-round opponent, which won’t be determined until the other three series in the Western Conference have concluded.
The earliest San Jose is expected to start the second round is Thursday but Game 1 could be as late as Sunday depending on how quickly the other first-round series end because of an Eagles concert scheduled for the Shark Tank on Friday and Saturday nights.
McLellan gave his team the day off Sunday and practice will resume Monday.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Nabokov said. “We’ll enjoy it for a couple of days and get back to work. This one wasn’t easy and we don’t expect it to get any easier with our next opponent.”