The San Jose Sharks have acquired the label as the league's biggest chokers. It may not be warranted--after all, the Washington Capitals have won their division for three consecutive years and have only one series victory to show for it.
Meanwhile, two of the Sharks five previous playoff losses were to higher seeds, the same number of higher seeds they have beaten. And while three have been to lower seeds, one of those teams (the Edmonton Oilers) was not the same once it made the trade for Dwayne Roloson, and would have won the Stanley Cup had he not gotten hurt.
(To those who question that statement, I will make my brief but iron-clad case: Edmonton won three games, so one more would have done it for them. They were winning the game Rolo was hurt in, but Ty Conklin mishandled a puck next to the net--a gaffe Rolo would not have made--to give away the lead, the game went into overtime, and Carolina won. Ergo, if Rolo is in that game to the end, they win it and the series in six.)
This is not to say the Sharks have not earned the label, however. Until this season, they had not beaten a team in the first round who had ever advanced to the second round post-lockout. They have lost to an eighth seed twice and a sixth seed once, and only one of those teams went on to win the next series.
More to the point, they had a lead in two of the series they blew, and lost at least three in a row at one point in three of the four.
But Thursday night, the Sharks overcame some of the deficiencies that have led to past failures:
- They won with a less-healthy roster than the Wings, being without Patty Marleau (flu), Niclas Wallin and Brad Staubitz (lower body injuries).
- They got a good performance out of Joe Thornton, who was very involved physically with four hits, got an assist, blocked a shot, and actually had as many takeaways as giveaways--something very difficult for someone who has the puck so much and is called upon to make the tough pass.
- They won a Game One at home for the first time in five series. They beat a team whose only loss to them during the season was in a shootout, and who had a three-game playoff winning streak against them.
- And one of the reasons they won is they did
something they had not before that does not appear on the scoresheet:
San Jose got in Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard's kitchen. Thornton sprayed
him with snow while crashing the net on one occasion, they blocked his view on the first goal, and two
others were at point-blank range.
But there was one constant: Joe Pavelski carried this team. He had the two most important goals of the game--the first and his third game-winner in the Sharks five playoff victories this spring. His assist involved him sprawling out to get to a puck that found its way over to Devin Setoguchi to give the Packers a 3-0 lead.If San Jose continues to play like this, they have a lengthy future in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If...