The Western Conference finals looked all-but-over coming into Friday's game in San Jose, but when it was over the landscape had changed dramatically (click the following link to read the recap).
One main reason was fourth-line forward Jamie McGinn. He replaced a boneheaded Ben Eager who, despite more experience and his name on Lord Stanley's Cup, cost the Sharks the game in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Sure, McGinn's match penalty gave the visiting Vancouver Canucks two late goals to make Game 3 close. But most analysts contend the hit was not worthy of a match penalty: Craig Button on NHL Network did not even think it should be a penalty since McGinn's feet did not leave the ice and his shoulder impacted Rome's shoulder despite his back being to the hitter.
Two of his four hits (including the penalty) knocked defencemen out for the remainder of that game and possibly more. While the Canucks can easily replace their sixth defenceman Aaron Rome, Christian Ehrhoff is their most mobile and best offensive player on the blueline.
McGinn's line drew penalties resulting in goals and created scoring chances of their own, including a beautiful two-on-one led by McGinn himself. Not bad for a guy who was on the ice for just 5:32.
But you do not win a game at this time of the year on two hits. You do it as a team.
The Sharks got another three power play goals to go to 6-for-13 in the series against the regular season's best penalty kill. Because the finally drew more penalties than they committed, their short-handed failings (Vancouver was two-for-five) are out-weighed by killing almost two minutes of five-on-three.
They are getting great play from their top line, with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton each scoring three points. Linemate Devin Setoguchi was the only player to finish in the minus, and he did so with an assist.
And they got great efforts down the roster. Only three players did not register a shot, with over half the skaters getting hits and blocks.
This is one reason the Sharks out-shot the Canucks for the first time this series (38-30), but still out-blocked them 26-22. They lost the faceoff battle for the first time (38-32), but had seven more takeaways and only three more giveaways.
Vancouver still out-hit the Sharks (28-19), but San Jose did things that do not appear on the scoresheet. They made Canucks fight in the corners by dumping pucks deep. They forced the Canucks to cover the full width and depth of their defensive zone with player and puck movement.
But despite the extra work they handed them, the Canucks youth and speed continues to dominate in the third period. That the Sharks have been out-scored 9-2 in the final period throughout three games without an empty-net goal makes it shocking they are not facing elimination.
Perhaps with the Canucks blueline thinned, the Sharks can turn that about. If not, they will be hitting the golf courses instead of opponents within a week.