SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sharks coach Ron Wilson sees the Dallas Stars as a slowly swinging pocketwatch. If you watch them for too long, they’ll probably put you to sleep.
Wilson must convince his players to stop staring and start hitting when they go up against the Stars’ deliberate, trapping style in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series on Sunday night. Dallas’ tactics worked splendidly in a 3-2 overtime victory in the series opener, putting the Sharks in need of an immediate wakeup call.
“They weren’t playing an aggressive, physical game, and we kind of got lulled into playing their game,” Wilson said Saturday. “You can get lulled to sleep in a game – you know, waving the watch, getting hypnotized, and the next thing you know, you’re on the floor. … They trap, and we literally fall into a trap of not being aggressive.”
Wilson saw the same disciplined dullness from the Stars in the opening round, when they trapped the defending champion Anaheim Ducks right out of the first round. San Jose has healthier, faster forwards than Anaheim, but still had trouble breaking through the Stars’ defensive posture.
San Jose outshot Dallas 27-18, and the Stars had few solid scoring chances – yet they capitalized on three of them, including two goals by captain Brenden Morrow. While the Sharks lamented their inability to negate the Stars’ trap by taking an early lead, Dallas also felt it had plenty of work to do on the counterattacking aspects of its game.
“I would like to see us generate a little more,” Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. “I don’t think we skated as well as we needed to early. The reality is we’re going to have to be much better. … I don’t think we played close to where we did in the Anaheim series. We’re going to have raise our level if we’re going to compete with that team.”
The Stars will attempt to stick with the style that worked all year long, save for a slide late in the regular season when the Sharks jumped past them for the Pacific Division title. Dallas has won seven of its last eight games at the Shark Tank, where an early lead can be a licence to sit three players back on the blue-line and wait for San Jose – though the Stars insist they can do more.
“We’re not the same team we were two or three years ago, where you get one or two goals and lock it down,” insisted Morrow, who has five goals in the Stars’ first seven games. “We have a team that can find goals from a number of areas. It just takes one chance, one shot.”
The Stars made the most of their few chances in Game 1, but the Sharks couldn’t counter with enough scoring against goalie Marty Turco, who took another step toward shaking his reputation as a playoff underachiever with an outstanding performance in Game 1. Jonathan Cheechoo scored the tying goal late in regulation with one of the Sharks’ few sustained rushes to the net, creating the necessary traffic in front of Turco.
Wilson claimed the Sharks’ ability to harass Turco is hampered by the goalie’s willingness to fall down at any provocation in hopes of drawing a penalty. Defenceman Craig Rivet got hit with a goalie-interference penalty in the first period that left Wilson laughing, but he’s serious about getting more physical play from his team.
“We’ve got to make Mike Modano’s life a little bit more miserable, too,” Wilson said. “Because he seems to love playing here, and we never got a hand on him.”
Sharks captain Patrick Marleau, whose scoreless performance in last year’s second round drew criticism from Wilson, is back on his coach’s watch list after committing a cardinal defensive blunder on Modano’s goal in Game 1. Marleau to avoid the long, low shot instead of blocking it, and it slipped right under his skates before skidding past Evgeni Nabokov.
San Jose lost Game 1 in its first-round series with the Calgary Flames, who stretched the NHL’s second-best regular season team to seven games. With a mostly young roster playing with just one major injury to defenceman Kyle McLaren, the Sharks are prepared for another long series.
“It’s the playoffs. It’s never going to be calm,” Nabokov said. “It’s never going to be your way all the time. You just have to fight through that. It’s never going to go smooth. I don’t see any Stanley Cup winners who went through smoothly.”