It seems the San Jose Sharks, despite adding impressive grit and resolve to a roster significantly lacking in both categories in a first-round playoff exit to the Anaheim Ducks in 2009, still cannot seem to shake the indomitable Mr. Murphy once the schedule changes from the regular to the post season.
The bad news? The Sharks still trail the Avalanche two games to one.
After a Game 1 disappointment where a comeback bid marked by a strong third period performance was thwarted by a tough-luck goal scored off Captain Rob Blake’s skate on a centering feed with less than a minute to play in a game dead-locked at one, the Sharks gave the Team Teal Faithful reason to hope in Game 2, coming from behind five separate times and scoring in the last minute of each period to ultimately win the game in overtime and even the series at one game a piece.
Then came Game 3.
The Sharks perhaps came closer than at any point all year to putting together the proverbial “60-minute effort” that has consistently been preached about, but continued to elude them.
The Sharks DOMINATED the Avalanche for long stretches of the game, holding a vast advantage in time of attack and out-shooting the Avalanche 50-16 in regulation. The Sharks recorded 21 shots in each of the last two periods of regulation.
This dominating offensive onslaught came despite the absence of elite scoring threat Dany Heatley, who sat out the game with an undisclosed injury.
The Sharks did absolutely everything possible to win this game, but were stymied on 50 shots and six power plays in regulation by Colorado’s Craig Anderson. Evgeni Nabokov was equal to the task, posting arguably a more impressive performance as he stopped all 16 Avalanche shots in regulation, despite seeing just seven after the first intermission.
The game was decided in overtime when defenseman Douglas Murray recovered the puck in the corner of his own zone to Nabokov’s right and left the puck for Dan Boyle. Boyle attempted to rim the puck around the boards behind the net, but instead took too sharp an angle on his back hand, and it snuck past Nabokov and into his own net for the only goal of the game.
The loss sets up a pivotal Game 4 where a Sharks’ win will now merely even the series (restoring home ice advantage to the Sharks for the remaining three games) rather than potentially giving them a commanding 3-1 series lead.
So where does Sunday’s loss leave the Sharks?
Scratching their heads? Certainly. Doubting themselves? Hopefully not! There is literally NO WAY the Avalanche can win the series if the Sharks continue to play with anywhere near the level of domination they showed on Sunday.
The argument could be made that this series is now exactly the same as the first round series last year: The Sharks trailing 2-1 after three games and facing a goalie that seems to be playing out of his mind. There are, however, some subtle differences.
The Sharks lost the first two games at home in 2009, unable to solve Jonas Hiller with any notable success. By the time they did figure out how to beat Hiller in Game 3, they were already too deep in the hole to dig themselves out.
This year, Game 2 proved that Anderson is susceptible. True, he had an incredible performance in Game 3, but that should not discourage the Sharks from believing they can and should still win this series.
The Avalanche played the game of their lives to keep Game 3 scoreless through regulation, and if not for an historic performance by Craig Anderson and some terrible luck for the Sharks, they probably STILL would have lost.
The Sharks’ challenge will be to maintain the level of play, resolve, and dominance they showed in Game 3, despite the ultimate result. Hopefully the devastating nature of the Game 3 loss will help strengthen their will moving forward.
Dany Heatley is expected to return for Game 4 according to the San Jose Mercury News. This may be both a blessing and a curse, as while it returns a dominating offensive force to the line up, it is likely to reunite the infamous “Big Line” which has been more poison than tonic for the Sharks this year.
If the Sharks can overcome the mental let down of the Game 3 loss and continue to display the disparity of play and effort they showed on Sunday, there is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that they will be playing in the second round.
Keep the faith!