With the Sharks facing what is unquestionably their biggest game in team history, one that could very realistically and very profoundly alter the future course of the team (a Sharks win would do little for now, but a Sharks loss could set off a huge chain of events), Sharks fans have two options: buy into the hype and gloom and doom forecasts, or keep believing that this team can once again overcome this latest challenge and win this series.
Make no mistake: the reality is bleak.
The Sharks are in the unenviable position of trailing by two games heading out on the road against a very good, and very hot team.
The Sharks have lost back-to-back games for the first time this postseason. The Sharks all-time conference finals home record now stands at 0-5. The Sharks’ current opponents have won seven straight road games and six of seven games overall.
But there are some historical factoids that hint at the possibility of a comeback. (Note to Blackhawks fans: you will not honestly and fairly consider the merit of the following facts anyway, so you might as well bypass them, scroll down and leave your classy “There’s no way the Hawks will lose four of five games. This series is OVER!!! You’re a moron!” comments now. I will be sure not to read them).
Things look gloomy, but did you know that three of the last four Stanley Cup Champions lost two straight games two separate times each during their playoff runs. You can believe me or look for yourself: the 2006 Hurricanes , 2008 Red Wings , and 2009 Penguins each suffered consecutive losses twice on their way to glory.
The Sharks have a history of rebounding from playoff lulls to win several games. In 2004, they lost the first two games of their only other conference finals series to Calgary, but came back to tie the series at two (though they ultimately lost, having played six games in the semifinals against Colorado).
In 2008, the Sharks started 1-2 against Calgary, but came back to win three of four to win the first round series. Then in the semifinals, they trailed Dallas 3-0 before rebounding for two wins and nearly forcing Game Seven in a four-overtime thriller.
Even last year, they trailed 2-0 to Anaheim and won two of the next three before finally suffering a loss of focus in Game Six. This year, trailing 2-1 to Colorado, they reeled off six straight wins.
This suggests the Sharks could find their game quickly and go on a hot streak, but they need to start Friday night. If they lose Game Three, the hole will almost certainly be too big to climb out of (two 3-0 comebacks in the same year? Even I have trouble having faith in that prospect).
Think there is no way the Blackhawks will lose four out of five games, hot as they are? Their play last year suggests otherwise. After winning six of eight games against Calgary and Vancouver, the Blackhawks lost four games out of five in the conference finals against Detroit.
The national outlets of NBC and VS (who have a large and vested interested in seeing Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals), and local pundits like notorious Shark-hater Ray Ratto have served their own purposes (or in Ratto’s case, entertained himself) by already writing this series off.
They would have you think that the Blackhawks are simply skating circles around an overmatched, overhyped, and overwhelmed Sharks team. In reality that is not the case. The Sharks have out-shot the Blackhawks in both games and rarely has there been any clear evidence of separation between the two teams, except for Nabokov giving up a few soft goals.
The Sharks need to make adjustments and step up their play to get back into this series, but if you have watched them to this point, why would you doubt that they can?
Nobody believed they would rebound from their late-season slump. They did. Nobody thought they would overcome the Game Three overtime loss to the Avalanche. They did (winning six straight games). People thought (and probably hoped in many cases) they would be rattled enough by a 7-1 Game Four drubbing by Detroit to perhaps turn the series. They were not.
Go ahead and let everyone else think this series is already over. The Sharks seem to play best (for once) with their backs against the wall. A win in Game Three changes the complexion of the series and could begin to play on the minds of the largely young Blackhawks, many of whom played first-hand witness to the team’s collapse a year ago in the conference finals.
If you are looking for an upside, it is nearly impossible for the Sharks to choke away a lead in this series. Would it not be poetic justice to finally be on the other side?
Keep the Faith!