San Jose Can Learn a Thing or Two from Dukes' Championship Game Win
Last Monday, the Duke Blue Devils defeated Butler 61-59 to win the NCAA Men's Championship Game.
Considering that Duke was one of the best all around teams in the country all season long, and the tournament's uncontested favorite after West Virginia's upset of Kentucky, this news shouldn't come as a shock to anyone.
However, the Blue Devil's magic has a history of disappearing once March Madness rolls around.
In the eight seasons that stretched between their last two Championships, despite being either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed six times, they only managed one trip to the Final Four, where they failed to advance to the Championship game. (Let alone win it.)
To put it simply, Coach K's squad had a tendency to dominate the regular season and then choke in the playoffs.
If you're a San Jose Sharks fan, it should.
Despite qualifying for the playoffs in six of the past seven NHL seasons, including winning their division and qualifying for a top three seed in the West in four of those years, San Jose has only made it past the second round once in that span.
Despite consistently being one of the best teams in the NHL in recent years, the Sharks have never been to, let alone won, a Stanley Cup. And last year, despite winning the President's Trophy, the Sharks were annihilated by Anaheim in the first round.
To put it simply, they're pretty much the Blue Devils on ice.
Which is why they need to turn their eyes toward Durham for inspiration on how to reverse playoff fortunes.
Now, since basketball and hockey are two vastly different sports, it won't help Dan Boyle much to watch footage on how play good defense like Duke.
Patrick Marleau probably won't benefit from studying Duke's shooting mechanics, and it would be a waste of time for Evgeni Nabokov to learn how Duke's big men effectively blocked shots.
However, there are three things San Jose needs to keep in mind as they attempt to mimic Duke these next couple weeks.
First, they need to focus on each individual round instead of jumping ahead to the next.
Duke was always on their A-game: it didn't matter if they were playing Arkansas Pine Bluff or West Virginia. The same needs to go for the Sharks this spring—they can't let Colorado become this years Anaheim.
Second, they need to forget all their past failures and head into the playoffs confident and ready to win.
Did Duke care that it hadn't beaten a top four seed in years when it played Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen? No, they went right ahead and continued marching though the tourney.
The same needs to happen with San Jose—they must put the bitter memory of last season behind or they risk repeating it.
Third, although there is really nothing they can do to ensure this, they need to get breaks with their schedule.
Duke never had to play the role of underdog, as their toughest opponent in the Dance was second seeded West Virginia. Likewise, the Sharks caught somewhat of a break in the first round of their schedule.
Colorado has only won three times in their last 12 contests, so it's unlikely for them to have a lot of momentum heading into the series.
Although the season series between the two teams is tied, the Av's are clearly overmatched on both sides.
The pitiful defense, which allowed Goalie Craig Anderson to collect over 2,000 saves this season should have a hard time stopping one of the best lines in the league, in Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau.
In other words, San Jose is unlikely to repeat last year's first round fiasco.
Beyond the first round, Chicago is the only team I see with enough talent and depth to challenge San Jose in the long run.
And if the Sharks can follow through in the first two categories, it is entirely possible for them to repeat what Duke finally did last week: win it all after years of early playoff exits.
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