After no doubt dragging their bruised bodies out of the rack yesterday morning following a physical 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, I was half expecting a possible letdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night.
Oh ye of little faith…shame, shame is my name.
Truth be told, there is not anything right now that is getting in the way of the only real avalanche of the Western Conference—and possibly hottest team in the NHL—San Jose Sharks.
And last night it certainly was not going to be a shadow-of-their-former-selves Penguin team to get in the way. Though battling valiantly all night, the undermanned Penguins were eventually overmatched by a Sharks team having just too many offensive weapons in store.
Pittsburgh got on the board first with a nice finish early in the opening period by Tyler Kennedy and actually closed out the 1st period up 1-0. The game was very even physically, but early in the 2nd period, the Sharks found themselves on the PP looking to equalize. Logan Couture answered the call with a quick shot off a beautiful pass from Wayne’s office courtesy of Devin Setoguchi and we were tied at 1 goal apiece.
It stayed that way until the beginning of the 3rd frame, when Patrick Marleau continued his own personal offensive tear with a sweet back hand stuff right in front of Penguins’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Sharks up 2-1.
What next followed was a series of events that I think shows whatever bad mojo the team had been lugging around with them earlier in the season is officially gone. With time running out in the 3rd period and the Penguins on the ropes, Pittsburgh pulled Fleury for the extra attacker.
Seconds later, Logan Couture was moving in on an empty net for the nail-in-the-coffin tally, but blew it and shot it wide. Then, on the ensuing rush following Couture’s miss, the Penguins banged one home and tied up the game.
Crusher—should have been 3-1, but now it was knotted up and the Penguins had all the momentum heading into the OT period. It was an awful miss truly by Captain Calder. Nobody is saying burying a shot with a guy hanging on you is easy, but there was no goalie in net and that needs to be put away.
Couture would be the first to admit it.
It was a really bad break, and a break that a couple of months ago would have probably cost the Sharks the game. I mean, there was no room for error back then when alternating wins and losses by the Sharks was the order of the day, and Todd McLellan was moving guys to and from Worcester like he was getting credit for their frequent flyer miles.
Back then, it would have gone like this: Couture empty net gaffe + late Pittsburgh equalizer = eventual Pittsburgh OT winner followed by confetti from the rafters and thinly sliced ham for all in attendance.
But that didn’t happen last night.
Rather, the Sharks shook off the equalizer by taking the fight right back to the Penguins in the extra period. They didn’t come out as a bunch of hang dog, slumped shouldered players gassed from playing in their 7th straight period of hockey in two days. Instead, they were a confident bunch who probably teased Couture about the miss in the locker room before they came out for OT.
And probably also assured him that the team would pick him up.
It was a positive reaction of a stalwart team, illustrated by the energy shown in the face of adversity and the eventual game winner in the extra period that was the result of this hard work.
The Sharks now know they are not careening through the universe, wondering how it all went wrong, but rather are comfortable in the knowledge that they are just better than the other guy.
Hang on for dear life has become go take care of business.
To advance in the playoffs in any sport, you need to carry that attitude like body armor at all times, and in the oft quoted line, go out and beat the teams that you should. The Sharks have shown by their late season renaissance that they have found that killer instinct and swagger to do just that, and are comfortable again in their own place as the top of the food chain.
All hail the returning Kings of the Pacific.
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