Sharks' First Line Comes to Life
A loss would have made for a nearly insurmountable and statistically improbable deficit. Tuesday night in Calgary, former Rocket Richard and MVP winners Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton responded by bringing their best game - and it was just in the nick of time.
They couldn't have waited any longer. In the third period, down a goal with less than five minutes to play, Cheechoo wound up for a sharp-angle shot over Kiprusoff's shoulder. It was reminiscent of that 05-06 campaign when he set a Sharks record for goals in a season and won the trophy, a time when it seemed he could take a shot from anywhere on the ice find the back of the net.
They had the game tied.
It's amazing that it took so long to even the score in a game in which the Sharks only allowed 10 shots on goal, but Mikka Kiprusoff gets credit for a bounce-back performance, even if the result was not a win. His save percentage outstripped Nabokov by 16 points.
Wisely, the Sharks maintained pressure in the final minutes, winning face-offs and keeping the battle in the Calgary zone. Rather than waiting for overtime, which they have done on a number of other occasions this season (despite a terrible record in extra frames and shoot-outs), Team Teal put the puck on the net and forced it through.
Thornton drove to the net in the final seconds to tip home a shot by Doug Murray, reclaiming his preeminence on a team that runs deep with talent. Coming through in high-pressure, must score situations will continue to be the lynchpin of their playoff success - the Sharks are a defense first team and there is no way around that.
Surely the team hopes that some of the question marks have been erased as the Sharks return to San Jose with their home-ice advantage in tact. I think the fans are also hoping that this effort was a turning point in their mental game and their ability to battle for sixty minutes.
Captain Patrick Marleau played an impressive game on Sunday, but unfortunately the team wasn't behind his efforts and his sacrifice. They let the game slip through their fingers.
But perhaps they have turned the corner. With the characteristic defensive performance Tuesday, followed by the key goals, it seems the Sharks are finally firing on all cylinders. With the strong return of defenseman Christian Erhoff, there are no signs of roster depletion that other playoff teams are having to face. The advantages so many fans and analysts (myself included) saw the Sharks possessed coming into the stretch are finally materializing in the second season. Let's hope it stays that way.
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