There are no words for how glad I am to see the Calgary Flames in the rear view mirror of the San Jose Sharks' Stanley Cup Express after the Sharks decisive 5-3 win in game 7.
The Express is admittedly running a bit behind schedule, thanks in large part to the Calgary Flames ability to bait the Sharks into a physical, ugly game that in itself neutralized some of the Sharks' advantages in skill and depth.
Thanks to good ole' Jeremy Roenick though, we're back on track and on schedule.
Truth be told, I feel a bit sheepish for being lulled into believing the Sharks would dispatch the Flames easily. That's what rolls like the one the Sharks were on in March due to fans.
I should have known better.
An experienced coach in Mike Keenan was going to have his team prepared, cagey vets like Owen Nolan would bring experience and grit to the equation, and when Jerome Iginla plays like he did in this series, you take the victory and tip your hat.
Well played, Flames.
Now the Sharks refocus for their next opponent, their nemesis the Dallas Stars. The two teams split their season series at four games apiece. The last time these two teams saw each other was chippy, resulting in 160 penalty minutes, 95 to the Sharks and Big Joe laying some jumbo left hands on Steve Ott.
Afterward, San Jose tough guy Jody Shelley remarked that “once the playoffs start, all that stuff that happened today will be forgotten. Of course, if we play [Dallas] in the second round, it will all resurface."
Well then, let the games begin.
Hopefully the Sharks will build on the momentum from tonight and come out with the intensity and fire that were missing at some key moments against the Flames.
In some ways, I feel like in getting through this series, the Sharks proved their mettle: elevating their play when they needed, staying disciplined, and not shying from the physical play of play off hockey.
All those traits will be needed in Round 2.
Hopefully the San Jose coaches take a look at how and why the Flames were able to be so efficient on the power play. In the first six games of the series, the Sharks were an abysmal 4 for 26, and they allowed Calgary to score one out of every four power play opportunities (5 for 20).
Though the Sharks special teams played much better in game 7, its interesting to note the only teams that converted power plays at a higher rate than Calgary in the first round was Sid the Kid's Pens and the Dallas Stars. Special teams are going to need to be special.
Hopefully Milan Michalek will return to the form he showed as the regular season wound down. Michalek led the team in shots over the course of the regular season but went pointless in all seven games against Calgary.
In his career against Dallas, Michalek has played in 23 games and racked up 13 points (5G, 8A). This season he notched five points in seven games. That kind of production will be necessary.
Hopefully the young guns, most specifically Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell, continue to get a ton of burn and make head coach Ron Wilson look smart for playing them.
Hopefully the Sharks can put the clamps on a Dallas superstar Mike Modano. The Stars center has made it his business to come to San Jose and torch the Sharks. In the eight contests this season, Modano racked up 11 points (5G, 6A), two of which were game winners at HP Pavilion.
Of course, between these two teams there is little mystery, so hopefully the Sharks execute their game plan, because most likely that will be the difference in this series.
Sorry Dallas, the Flames need some company back there in that rear view mirror, and the Express has a schedule to keep.