Treading Water: San Jose Sharks in Search of Killer Instinct Tonight in Calgary

Erin KingContributor IApril 15, 2008

In his 1992 film Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino said "When sh!t hits the fan, some guys run, and some guys stay.”

On Sunday night in Calgary, San Jose built a 3-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game and chased All-Star goalie Mikka Kiprusoff from the net.  

Calgary could have run.

Instead, they chose to stay and battled back against all odds, culminating in Owen Nolan's go-ahead goal with just under four minutes to play in the third period.

San Jose is now searching for answers as to how they could have let this game, which was firmly in their grasp, slip away.  They find themselves behind, two games to one, in their best of seven Western Conference quarterfinal matchup.

Was it coaching? Perhaps. Missed opportunities? Could be. Poor goaltending? Not in the least bit, as Nabokov, at times, stood on his head, and is the sole reason why this was just a one goal game.

San Jose is down in the series because the squad lacks the killer instinct a championship team needs to put away the opposition after building an early lead.

San Jose could not have asked for a better start against the Flames on Sunday night. They knew they needed to get the pumped up fans, who were fresh off a stint on the raucous red mile, out of the game as quickly as possible.

Ryan Clowe, Patrick Marleau, and Doug Murray stunned the Calgary faithful.  As they looked up to the sky wondering what they did to deserve this treatment from the hockey gods, they also saw a scoreboard that read SHARKS 3 FLAMES 0 only 3:33 into the first period.  

The Sharks came out fast and used their strengths effectively. When the Sharks use both their size and speed, it is difficult to play with them.

Ryan Clowe, who has been hands down their best player thus far in the series, continued to cause trouble for Calgary defensemen by having a solid net-front presence, as he scored the first goal, and set up the second.

Tenacious forechecking caused a turnover which the Sharks took advantage of by feeding Doug Murray who blasted a one-timer past Kipprusoff for the three-goal lead.

3:33 into the first period, it was 3-0 Sharks, and Kipprusoff was on the bench in favor of aging goaltender Curtis Joseph. The Sharks could not have been more pleased.

So, after a great start like that, what happened?

The Sharks got away from the systems that have been working for them and became complacent.

No longer did they focus on getting the puck deep in the Calgary zone and maintain their physical game against the likes of Phaneuf and Reghyr.  No longer did they bring the puck to the net with authority and crash the net looking for rebounds.

Instead, they became a soft squad who played perimeter hockey, which is ineffective against a tough, physical team like the Flames.

The San Jose Sharks are lacking a killer instinct that is integral to teams who pose a real threat to win the Stanley Cup. No Sharks' lead is safe, as they—for some reason—decide to leave their game plan and everything that has worked for them in the past.

The Sharks are a team with a fragile mentality, and the hit that Cory Sarich laid on Patrick Marleau completely destroyed the team's ability to play tough, smart hockey.

At that moment, the Sharks began to play scared and did not seem to play with the tenacity they have shown in other games.

The momentum Calgary acquired from Sunday's win, which all started with Sarich's hit, is something the Sharks need to be extremely wary of. The Flames are a hard-nosed hockey team, and they thrive on raw emotion.

We saw the same emotion in the 2003-04 playoffs when they took down the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeds in the West and on their way to losing the Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.

Momentum is everything in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and right now, the Flames hold all of the momentum in this series.

Instead of sticking to the game plan that has worked and leading the series 2-1 going into game four, the Sharks played with caution and fear. Now they trail in the series, desperately needing game four to stay in the game.

As a Sharks fan, I can remember vividly how series momentum swings never bode well for San Jose.

In the 2005-06 playoffs, going into Edmonton with a 2-0 series lead, they blew a two-goal lead in game three which forced overtime. Edmonton took the game in triple overtime, giving them a huge momentum boost and it took the next three games to win the series, 4-2.

This team has never performed well in the playoffs and has fallen many times in the second round because they were not playing to their true potential.

The Sharks, as mentioned, desperately need game four to stay in this series. They do not have the strength or mentality to come back from a two-game deficit against this tough Flames squad.

Joe Thornton, who has been invisible this series—along with the likes of Brian Campbell and Jonathan Cheechoo‚ needs to step up to the same level at which teammates Ryan Clowe, Patrick Marleau, and Jeremy Roenick have been playing.

Coach Ron Wilson needs to take charge of his bench and hold the team accountable for their actions. The team has a game plan, and they need to stick to the plan to be effective.

On Sunday night, the "sh!t hit the fan" early for the Calgary Flames, but they decided not to run. Instead, it was the Sharks who ran scared.

Tonight, in game four, we will see who has the killer instinct.

Also, we will see if the Sharks can make this a best of three series going home or if they will be looking at the brink of elimination, and once again see themselves on the outside looking in at the Stanley Cup playoffs.


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