This team that nobody gave credit to has a chance to do the unthinkable—sweep the Detroit Red Wings in the second round and pass their big brothers in ability.
But more importantly, they would also be laying to rest their past playoff failures, both as a team and among its stars.
We all know the team has failed to make it out of the second round in each of the past four seasons since the lockout, and has already won more games than it did in those years. One can debate the extent of their failure, but once that label is accepted around the league, it weighs on you.
Similarly, the team's biggest stars have been charged with coming up small, though that was not really the case until 2008. Joe Thornton had 15 points and an even rating in his last 19 games and Patty Marleau had 17 points and a minus-seven through his last 30.
Both put forth strong efforts in Game Three, leading the team with a goal a piece. And the most heartening thing for the Sharks is that this was the third way this team won its third game.
In Game One, the Sharks led much of the way, hit and blocked shots well, and took care of the puck. In Game Two, they dominated in the faceoff circle and shot clock while drawing a big advantage in penalties in a see-saw game.
In Game Three, the Sharks had to battle back from a 3-1 third-period deficit in an Arena the franchise has only won in eight times in 44 tries. To see what has been the difference in this team from those in past seasons, please see my companion piece at Shark-Infested Blogger.
Early in the first period, Manny Malhotra, whose play has been solid despite a lack of point production, missed an opportunity at an open net. It looked to be a view of things to come when it was followed by two Detroit scores.
While the Sharks managed to dodge a bullet as the first goal was clearly kicked in by Henrik Zetterberg, soon after another goal stood. Kent Huskins appeared to have taken a stick or elbow to the face, and was bent over when a puck went in off Tomas Holmstrom's leg.
Near the end of the period, the Wings out-worked the Sharks for a puck behind the net and sent it out for Dan Cleary, who found space and the back of the net for the 2-0 lead. It could have been worse after Jason Demers was called for grabbing the puck in the crease, over protests he was pushing it into goalie Evgeni Nabokov to freeze the puck; Nabby made the save on Zetterberg's penalty shot.
Then it was time for The Big Pavelski.
Devin Setoguchi fought for the puck behind the net, and Joe got to it. As Seto skated back for a shooting angle, Joe fought to get around the defence and, nearly being pulled to the ground, got the puck to his right winger, who spun and put it home with a under four seconds left in the first period.
But it took fewer than two minutes of the second period for the Wings to re-establish their two-goal lead. "Z" got his tally from the corner behind the goalline, throwing a puck off Douglas Murray and into the net.
By controlling the puck with a 21-15 edge in shots through two periods, Detroit looked comfortably in command of the game. But with just over 13 minutes to go, Thornton circled behind the net, took advantage of a Marleau screen, and threw the puck in off Pavel Datsyuk.
Still, Detroit should have won the contest were it not for a bad angle shot by Logan Couture that Jimmy Howard allowed in. With under seven minutes to go and just over a foot ahead of the goalline, he caught Howard cheating for a pass and threw the puck off the fellow rookie's right leg and in.
Before the game reached overtime, the Sharks were beginning to take over. But Detroit staved off a power play late in the third, and had a scoring chance in overtime as a bad line change led to a four-on-three.
However, forward Jason Williams' shot went high and wide and caromed around the boards to the late arriving Thornton, who rushed up on a two-on-one with Marleau. Brian Rafalski failed to stop the pass and Howard was overly aggressive in attacking the puck carrier Thornton (especially given the almost certainty he would look to pass given his style), making the tap-in by Marleau easy.
The Sharks scored the last three goals of the game and had their second come-from-behind victory in a row and sixth win overall. They are within a game of moving on to the third round for only the second time in franchise history.
Wow, what a ride this postseason has been.