The Sharks escaped out of Los Angeles with two wins and a 3-1 series lead.
After an improbable come back in Game 3, the Sharks made it look easy in Game 4, pummeling Jonathon Quick and winning 6-3. The Sharks now come back to HP Pavilion with a chance to close out the series. However, the long road to the Stanley Cup is just starting.
Here are five improvements that the Sharks must make in order to win the cup.
1. Better Starts to Games
In games two and three of the first round, the Sharks trailed the Kings by at least two goals at the end of the first period.
We all know about game three, but the Sharks ended up losing game two 4-0. You can't make a miraculous comeback every single game, so the Sharks cannot keep putting themselves in a situation in which they have to come back from multiple-goal deficits. The Sharks were able to beat the Kings in game two partly because L.A. is inexperienced and a young team.
It is a guarantee that the Sharks will not be able to come back from deficits against Vancouver or Detroit.
2. Stay in the Moment
With the Sharks' decisive 6-3 win against L.A. in Game 4, it's easy to assume that the Sharks will close out the series at home Saturday night—that's a no-no.
It is a given that the Kings will put forth their best effort and play like there is no tomorrow in game five. The Sharks can not slack off and let the Kings catch them off guard.
This ties back into the first point, which is get off to a good start and keep pressing until the final horn sounds.
3. Don't Let Your Guard Loose with a Big Lead
• The Boston Bruins, down 3-1 midway through the second period Thursday, came out on top, 5-4 in OT.
• Down 3-0 in the best-of-7, first-round series, the Chicago Blackhawks now are only a win away from forcing a Game 7 with the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks after a win on Thursday."
As you can infer, no lead is safe in the NHL, especially not in the playoffs. Leading back to the second point, the Sharks must stay in the moment, not in the past or future. They can't think back to previous mistakes, or look ahead to the next game or round.
They must simply concentrate on guarding their lead and escaping to their locker room with a win.
4. Use Their Depth
"We feel that we've got three lines that can score and match up with anybody, and right now they were," said captain Joe Thornton.
The Sharks are full of talent, and they must use it. Every single player on the top three lines have all scored at least ten goals in a season. There is a ton of potential in that locker room, and they must take advantage of it against the inexperienced and demoralized L.A. Kings.
5. Use the Right Goaltender at the Right Time
Todd McClellan pulled Anti Niemi after he gave up four straight goals in game three. His replacement,
Antero Nittymaki, was more than stellar, backstopping the Sharks to a 6-5 comeback victory. in game four, McClellan started Niemi once again. He was solid, giving up three goals in a 6-3 victory.
However, do not count out Nittymaki. He is hungry for more minutes to prove himself, after becoming the backup goaltender midway through the season.
Nittymaki may just be the secret weapon that the Sharks need in order to win the Stanley Cup.