The San Jose Sharks are no stranger to adversity this season, and certainly haven’t lacked season-defining moments. The fact that they now face a steep challenge in Game 3 to climb back into the series should surprise no one, the Sharks least of all.
The Sharks and Canucks both know that a two-game lead is by no means a safe lead, but history is not on San Jose's side. Yet again the odds are stacked against this team, but they’ve proven the doubters wrong all season and will do it again in Game 3.
While San Jose has been outplayed for the better part of two games, they have been here and done that as it were.
Take your pick San Jose Shark fans, because they’ve done it before and they’ll do it again in Game 3 Friday night.
Here are five reasons why.
This line has underperformed all series after being the most consistent element to the Sharks depth for the second half of the season.
With just one assist, not only have they underperformed, the line has been a liability with a minus-four and two consecutive poor performances. Sloppy puck control, weak play along the boards and inconsistent defensive play has stripped this line of its effectiveness.
Being outplayed by their Vancouver counterparts in Torres-Lapierre-Hansen, the Sharks third line must protect home-ice and come ready to play.
Kyle Wellwood kicked off the trash talking by hinting that his former teammates lacked the mental toughness to win in the playoffs earlier in the year. He'll need to come ready for a tough, hard-hitting game and make a positive impact for the Sharks.
Pavelski has three game-winning goals this year after notching nine a year ago in the playoffs. He also rebounded in the faceoff circle after a poor Game 1 performance, and will be a huge part of this line’s resurgence in Game 3.
It’s a simple concept but hard to execute in this highly-charged series, and the emotions figure to be up after Game 2.
Antti Niemi can only do so much with an out of control team in front of him, and San Jose must steer clear of the penalty box to prevent anything close to the Game 2 meltdown.
The trash talk starting from the “weasel” comments when Bieksa was asked about Wellwood have risen to a crescendo. Kevin Bieksa fighting Patrick Marleau just threw gas on the fire, Ben Eager chirping at Luongo after scoring the third goal is just icing on the cake and Friday night both teams will be charged up to play.
Ryane Clowe and Maxim Lapierre exchanging the latest of volleys should make for some interesting hockey, but the Sharks must maintain control. After allowing four powerplay goals in Game 2, the special teams mission is quite clear.
The Sharks will play with control, because they really have little other choice in the matter.
Kent Huskins improved his play in Game 2, but it’s no secret the Sharks are missing Jason Demers on the second pairing.
Even though he claimed to be healthy Tuesday in an interview, Demers missed his second straight game, punching a void in the Sharks blueline and stretching depth thin. According to Mercury News, Demers had this to say:
"When the coaches tell me to play, I'll be ready to play and I'm ready to go," Demers said, adding for emphasis: "Whenever they need me, I'll be ready."
Ian White and Niclas Wallin have taken on more minutes, but with mixed results, and the Vlasic-Demers pairing is often overlooked for their play.
Demers must return bringing his speed, physical play and ability to lead the breakout for the Sharks in Game 3.
Yes he hurt the Sharks with his selfish play, yes he got too charged up and cost San Jose in Game 2. But he’s still a huge part of this team and there’s no coincidence that his return to the lineup helped close out the Kings and Red Wings.
McLellan kept sending Eager out in Game 2 despite the fact he’s scratched him several times in the playoffs.
“I think he has the ability to win battles and create scrums. I do believe the other team knows when he's on the ice. The fact that Ben played a lot more minutes tonight was rewarding for us. Now the negative. He can't march to the penalty box on an ongoing basis. The trade-off obviously didn't work in our favor tonight. I'd like him to play that game, without going to the penalty box. Simple as that.” according to NHL.com.
Sending a message to the rest of the Sharks skaters? Or is it a preview of Game 3?
The fourth line has been outperformed by both the Red Wings and Kings, and rode the minus train in several games without Eager in the lineup. After sitting out the bulk of the first two rounds, Eager took on 10 minutes of ice time and consistently brought energy to the ice.
"Is he an asset or a liability? He was both last night," McLellan said. "If we can limit the liability part, we've got one heck of a player."
Don’t be surprised if you see Eager take on more minutes in Game 3 and making a huge impact. He's been here before, and knows how to play the Vancouver Canucks but will need to be smart about it.
San Jose doesn't need to look far for the lessons taught by the Chicago Blackhawks just a year ago in the very same Western Finals. Struggling breakout, turnovers in the neutral zone, and an ineffective forecheck are all too familiar themes for Shark fans.
Turning the puck over and losing the offensive zone time battle for most of series so far, the Sharks must protect the puck to sustain offense.
Against the faster team in Vancouver, the Sharks need to take the higher percentage play on the breakout and their bigger bodies to protect the puck down low. Taking too many chances is leading to turnovers coming out of the San Jose zone, especially against the Vancouver third line.
While you certainly don't want to discourage guys from trying to make the play, situational awareness must take precedence when exiting the zone in the playoffs.
Many turnovers were the direct result of trying to transition too far ahead with the first pass, and intercepted by Vancouver in the neutral zone.
Getting back to basics and simplifying the Sharks game sound familiar? It should for Sharks fans this postseason, against LA and Detroit the Sharks have gotten the job done and will do so again to get back into this series.
Head Coach Todd McLellan has not defended any of the Sharks in postgame interviews, indicating that team effort was lacking from several players. According to NHL.com, McLellan had this to say.
“I’m not going to sit here and try to protect them. We lost our composure and were frustrated. When you are second, you tend to be frustrated. We’ve got some work to do, we’ve got some guys that need to ask themselves some questions and answer them and pull the skates a little tighter.”
With the last line change at home I wouldn’t be surprised to see McLellan make some bold changes to his lineup to light a fire under the Sharks skaters. You don’t need to read between the lines to see that he may be tired of motivational ploys at a time in the season when such things shouldn’t be needed.
A look back against the Kings and Red Wings will remind Shark fans that this has happened before. If this team is serious about its quest for the Cup, now is the time to show it.
It’s odd how the more this franchise fights to depend less on Thornton and Marleau, the more things stay the same. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are just a handful of the Sharks that came to play in Game 2, and the Sharks second and third lines have to pull their own weight in Game 3.
It’s time for the Sharks to draw a line in the sand and let the men separate themselves from the boys.