2011 NHL Playoffs Show Importance of Closing out Opponents

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMay 16, 2011

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team left 4-0 in elimination games (theirs and their opponents)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team left 4-0 in elimination games (theirs and their opponents)Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs could end as late as the second weekend in June. But one team has already claimed the trophy.

Which one? The one that knows how to win when it has to.

Is it the San Jose Sharks?

Probably not. It was apparent in their series-opening loss when they could not close out the Vancouver Canucks in the third period with a 2-1 lead.

Did they choke? No. Sometimes a team has more to give than you do.

The Sharks lost that game before the puck was dropped.  Games this time of year are actually won in the little battles during the season, and in moments throughout the playoffs.

The Sharks won the Detroit series in Los Angeles during Game 3 of the first-round series against the Kings. San Jose rallied from a 4-0 deficit (and 8-0 goal run during the series) to win that game in overtime, so why should losing three games in a row the next round be anything to worry about?

Now they actually lost a less-important Game 1 of this series exactly one week earlier after they let up with a 3-1 lead in the third period of Game 5 of the second round against Detroit.

That loss to Detroit sent them reeling and led to a seventh game in that series. The 13 games played left them drained for the Western Conference Finals against a younger Vancouver squad that had four more days off.

That is why you have to close out a team when you have them by the throats.

The good news for the Sharks is that Vancouver cannot close teams out, either. In fact, they have less killer instinct, having let a team that had eliminated them two consecutive seasons and was a shell of themselves come back from 3-0.

This means that now the shoe is on the other foot for the Sharks. Their role has been usurped by the Vancouver Canucks, leaving them to play the role of the Red Wings—a veteran and crafty team that can battle to stay in when they are physically over-matched.

The question is, can the Sharks carry their ability to be out-played but win in Games 3 and Game 7 against Detroit to the next series?

If not, they had better hope Vancouver chokes.