In many ways, Game 3 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals was a microcosm of all that has always been San Jose Sharks playoff hockey: Look good early on, fight hard, inspire hope late in the goings, then lose in an utterly demoralizing manner.
Down two games to none to the fearsome Chicago Blackhawks, I fully expected the San Jose Sharks to play their best game of the postseason. They just may have. The only problem: Antti Niemi chose the very same night to play the game of HIS LIFE!
The fact that Antti Niemi was not chosen as one of the three stars is an absolute travesty as he was the ONLY reason the Blackhawks won this game, and has been the very best player on the ice thus far in the series, Dustin Byfuglien included.
When the Sharks scored less than two minutes into the game, I knew it was too good to be true. It (by virtue of a disallowed goal for Joe Pavelski’s alleged distinct kicking motion) of course was.
When the Sharks took a lead on a five-on-three power play, but failed to pad it on the ensuing five-on-four, I thought that was only true to form.
When they gave up the next two goals to trail 2-1 late in the game, I knew it was not over.
When they tied the game, I actually let myself believe they would win.
Then, as usual, they dashed my hopes with an odd defensive lapse, leaving a dangerous scorer WIDE OPEN for the game-winning goal.
While I have harped on the point for months now that the 2010 San Jose Sharks are different from any team amongst the franchise’s long and painful lineage of playoff disappointments, the sinking feeling in my chest when Dustin Byfuglien raised his arms skyward in overtime was bitterly familiar.
Why then do I still have the overwhelming sense that this year is different?
In order to hoist the Stanley Cup, you need a lot of things. Chief among them, you need to get better in each series as the playoffs progress.
For once, you could argue that the Sharks have done that. They played well against Colorado, but twice required overtime to advance in six games past a team they should have utterly dominated. They were clearly better against the vaunted Red Wings (excluding their day off in Game Four), showing great resolve and disposing of their daunting rivals in five games.
Then came the Western Conference Finals. Despite their 3-0 series hole, the Sharks have played very well. Evgeni Nabokov has let in some soft goals, but the Sharks have outshot the Blackhawks in every single game of the series, and in two of three games have drastically outperformed the Blackhawks in terms of quality scoring changes. If not for an odd bounce or momentary lapse, the Sharks could easily lead the series 2-1 or even 3-0.
Such facts are nice to look at, but as Ozzy Osbourne once said, immortalized in song, “It’s not how you play the game, it’s if you win or lose.”
The odds of a comeback are just plain dismal. It has only happened three times since World War II, and it certainly does not help that we sit just weeks removed from one of those three instances.
Even so, the Sharks still have to play Game Four on Sunday. With absolutely nothing to lose, some great performances under their belts, and an Eastern Conference Finals series looking as though it is a lock to go seven games, perhaps the Sharks would be best served to commit to playing Stanley Cup spoilers against the Blackhawks, be that by tiring them out as much as possible for the remainder of this series, or (dream of all dreams) coming back to beat them.
The Sharks forced a four-overtime Game Six the last time they found themselves in a 3-0 playoff series hole. Perhaps with a (for once) lucky bounce, we could all bear witness to a Game Seven in San Jose this time around. I will not hold my breath personally, but stranger things have happened.
As Ozzy said in that very same song, “Ya gotta believe in foolish miracles.”
Keep the Faith!