Swimming Under the SONAR: San Jose Sharks Relishing Underdog Role?

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Swimming Under the SONAR: San Jose Sharks Relishing Underdog Role?

As I have pointed out many times, the theme of the 2010 NHL Playoffs for the San Jose Sharks has been “Overcome.”

Having entered these playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the second consecutive season, that might strike the casual observer as fairly odd. As the top seed, the Sharks knew going in that they would automatically enjoy home ice advantage and the most “favorable” match up in each round for as long as they last.

But even despite this fact, the “Overcome” theme was appropriate for this squad, as they have had to find ways to slay the ghosts of playoffs past and beat the odds at every turn so far.

They might have been a top seed going in, but luck was not on their side. A deflection goal in the last minute of Game One against Colorado and a devastating redirected dump pass in overtime of a scoreless Game Three of that same series put the Sharks in a sudden and seemingly demoralizing 2-1 series hole.

Even before the series began, heck before the season began, people were talking about how the Sharks would respond to the loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round after winning the President’s Trophy last year. The 2-1 deficit to the Colorado Avalanche gave the pundits more ammunition, as they predicted swift death for the Sharks in the series.

The Sharks of course overcame those expectations—along with the 2-1 series deficit—to win three straight games and beat the Avalanche in six games. This let them sit back and watch the rest of the series play out, knowing they would face the lowest remaining seed.

That failed to work out as many would have hoped of course, when the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators both dropped deciding sixth games at home, and despite failing to close the series in six games at home, the Detroit Red Wings soundly beat the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Seven, setting up another playoff battle with San Jose.

Despite the seedings, as soon as the Red Wings finished their handshakes with the Coyotes, the Versus broadcasting crew was already predicting them to take care of the Sharks in the second round.

The Sharks rose to meet another challenge, extending their win streak to six straight games, and taking what proved to be an insurmountable lead in the series at 3-0.

Despite a 7-1 drubbing in Game Four averting a shutout—and opening the door again for rampant speculation that Detroit was poised to play witness to the greatest Sharks choke on record—the Sharks played an inspired game in Game Five to put the issue to rest and move on to the Conference Finals.

Some things never change, as the Sharks learned Tuesday night that they would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round, a team who had their number in regular season play and that many experts had said all year the Sharks were not equipped to beat should the two teams meet in the Conference Finals.

But I do not think the Sharks are complaining. They should want to face Chicago.

This year has been about overcoming and that is exactly what they have done. They have risen to meet every single criticism and challenge they have faced and taken great strides to purge the dark clouds that stalked them in previous Stanley Cup tournaments.

They would have been clear favorites against Vancouver, but playing Chicago allows them to keep playing with a chip on their shoulders and keep striving to “overcome” their pundits. Unlike last year, where they faced huge expectations from everyone, this year they are enjoying an underdog’s mentality, and thriving on it.

Experts will talk about Jonathan Toews leading the playoffs in scoring. Experts will talk about Antti Niemi being 4-0 following a loss. Experts will talk about the Blackhawks scoring three short-handed goals against the Shark and defeating them 7-2 at HP Pavilion back on 25 November 2009.

There is of course another side to all those arguments, but I do not think Todd McLellan would want me to mention it. He will keep his message simple: “People are still doubting you. You still have more to overcome.”

Interesting side note: the first three goals in each series have predicted the outcome of the first three games thus far. The Sharks gave up the first goal in Game One against Colorado, then tied the game before losing 2-1. After the first three games, the Avalanche led two games to one.

The Sharks roared out to 3-0 lead with three goals in 79 seconds in Game One against Detroit, and wound up taking a 3-0 lead in the series.

Who knows whether this trend continues, but either way, I would not at all mind seeing the Sharks up 3-0 at the first intermission of Game One against Chicago.

Keep the Faith!

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