I was pretty confident going into the Sharks home opener last night, save one persistent little voice that kept whispering into my subconscious the most obscene of all expletives…Byfuglien. It wasn’t exactly a whisper, but more akin to the taunting, droning, two note chant the Shark Tank reserves for guys named Pronger…only in my head and on endless loop.
My fears seemed silly and unnecessary as the Sharks stormed out in front of the usual, bellowing HP Pavilion crowd and outworked, outshot and just plain outplayed Atlanta. Their hard work was finally rewarded late in the period with a power play goal from Dany Heatley, and seconds later, one by the only guy in an Affliction shirt that I’d never tease, Ryane Clowe. Seriously, if you’re wearing one of those shirts right now, it’s time to hit the mall for some new gear because you are “Ed Hardy Shirt Guy” only with this weird, I have a parole officer and think it’s cool vibe. Honestly, the only two people that should be allowed to wear Affliction are Ryane Clowe, because regardless of how many stylized skulls and flames he might have on his shirt, he still seems like the one Shark that you’d want to be drinking tequila with, and The Situation, but it’s just his world and you need to get on board with that.
The second period opened with the Sharks on the power play after Scott Nichol was interfered with by Alexander Burmistrov, and as added bonus, also included a brutal beat-down by Frazer McLaren over Chicago Blackhawks castoff, Ben Eager. The frivolity of the moment quickly abated only seconds later when Andrew Ladd scored shorthanded to put the Thrashers on the board. That goal by Ladd would prove a crucial turning point as the previous hard work and effort displayed by the Sharks was now morphing into apathy and indifference. Later on that second period, Atlanta rewarded the Shark’s stagnant play with an equalizer by Anthony Stewart to bring the Thrashers even at two goals a piece, and as a palpable din of anxiety moved through the crowd, both teams went into the break heading in two completely different directions.
The third period opened up with all the fears of the Sharks faithful in attendance quickly being realized, as the Thrashers started to take the fight to San Jose, knocking them off pucks and intercepting seemingly every pass they attempted. The time seemed right for the Thrashers to take what had now rightfully become theirs, in short, it was time for our villain to enter stage left. Dustin Byfuglien played that part perfectly at the 13:40 mark of the third period, scooting to yes, the front of the bloody net to put a power play goal past his former Chicago teammate, Antti Niemi. A couple of minutes later, the Sharks fate was sealed when Evander Kane, a man with a name made for comic books, potted one to put the Thrashers up two goals to the eventual final score of 4-2.
The plan going in was for the better team to impose their will, exhaust their opponent with high energy effort and walk away victorious…the problem was we all thought going in that team was going to be the Sharks.