After Sunday night's come-from-ahead loss to the Calgary Flames in Game 3, San Jose Sharks' head coach Ron Wilson had to shake things up. And shake he did, like a desperate gambler at a craps table.
Wilson played 7 defencemen in Game 4.
He switched the lines up, even running Big Joe Thornton, Jody Shelley and playoff superstar Ryan Clowe out to take the opening shift of the game.
He scratched venerable penalty killers Patrick Rissmiller and Curtis Brown to get a dinged up Christian Ehrhoff and rookie Devin Setoguchi in the lineup.
After Big Joe's goal won the game for the Sharks in the waning seconds of the third period, Wilson's moves look brilliant.
His team, whose heart had been questioned by the fans and media alike, played inspired and determined hockey in a come-from behind-win. All World net minder Evgeni Nabokov only faced 10 shots, including a stretch of 24 minutes in which Calgary failed to muster any shot toward Nabby at all.
As Jody Shelley said, "They've enjoyed their two games. Now it's our turn to go out and do it our way."
And do it their way, they did.
The change that stood out most was the addition of Setoguchi to the lineup. Setoguchi notched his first playoff point with an assist on Jonathan Cheechoo's goal that tied the game with 4:56 left in the third period. The rookie winger was a whirling dervish, playing just over 12 minutes and putting 3 shots on goal. He matched the Flames physicality and made them account for him every shift he was on the ice, making Wilson comment that Setoguchi “was huge. He kept competing.”
I wasn't surprised though. That's how Sharks rookies play.
Torrey Mitchell, another San Jose rookie, is a fast and gritty player who notched his first playoff goal in the Sharks game 2 win. Last night, Mitchell and Setoguchi played an integral part in game 4. These two players have entrenched themselves into the lineup of a team with Stanley Cup expectations, and they contribute. A rare thing for rookies.
Obviously Mitchell will continue to get some run, as his grinding line featuring Mike Grier and Patrick Rissmiller has consistently given Calgary problems.
On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if Setoguchi gets the call again. Rissmiller and Brown definitely proved their worth over the course of the season, and Wilson may have gone with Setoguchi for some fresh, young legs in light of the coach playing with only 11 forwards.
With the series now tied at 2 games apiece and the sense around the team much less desperate than Tuesday, Wilson may go to his veterans and restore one of the leagues best penalty killing units.
Regardless, no one can complain about the play of the young guys this series, or this season. The Sharks have proven themselves to be an organization that is excellent at both scouting and developing young talent to contribute or be moved for needed pieces. It's no wonder that Miikka Kiprosoff, the stellar Calgary goalie, was once a talented young Shark.
That was the past, though, and Mitchell and Setoguchi are the future Sharks stars.
Based on their play this post season, it sure looks like the future is now.