Let the beatings commence!
The San Jose Sharks are currently putting on a clinic of how to finish off a regular season, and any concerns that the team is not taking their final games seriously is starting to look like needless worrying.
Unfortunately, merely taking games seriously doesn’t bring home the silverware all on its own.
Any successful playoff run requires a team to be able to answer a couple of key character questions, to prove to themselves (and by extension to us, the fans) that their high confidence has been well earned and not just because Doug Wilson has been looping Tony Robbins over the locker room iPod. In short, they need to see their game plan and dominance in action, before they will be ready to live up to expectations.
One question that surfaces every year is, can the Sharks beat the teams that they should?
These are the teams that do not stack up in any category with the Sharks, and need to be treated with almost an air of arrogance. Not in an unsportsmanlike manner, but more with the firm conviction that the team you are lining up against just doesn’t belong in the NHL at all…but that you’re going to keep that opinion to yourself, shake their hands and take the high road while beating them silly. For their part the Detroit Red Wings seem to embody this ethic year in and year out, and are rarely outclassed by the plucky underdog.
The Sharks seemed to pass this test Thursday night, when they absolutely hog-tied a shell-of-their-former-selves Dallas Stars team 6-0 at the Tank, proving emphatically that not everything is bigger in Texas—especially the Stars right about now.
Now for an official Dallas Star anti-fan and virulent Steve Ott hater, it should have been the penultimate moment of my season. Just seeing Ott and his sniveling band of Dallas mouth-breathers totally humbled at the hands of Team Teal, with goals being bagged by the Sharks at every turn. It really should have been a dream come true—get to watch the Sharks blow out the Stars, heckle some moron in a Zubov jersey, high five a few strangers around the horn and rally at Tied House for pints postgame.
Instead, I almost felt sorry for them which feels weird—ok, almost. Though still officially in the playoff hunt, the Stars look about as much a threat right now as me getting picked first in a pickup game at Rucker Park—hey fellas wanna get a run?
Dallas just doesn’t seem to care on any level, which is a far cry from the days of wine, roses and crease violation Cup winning goals. The former neighborhood bully, who have always taken the Sharks to task (even in down years for them) are now just the scared guy in the dhoti from Temple of Doom about to have his heart pulled out by Mola Ram.
But, Dallas served a purpose a few nights ago even if they are now the paper tigers of the NHL. They came in the clear underdog to the Sharks especially given their putrid recent form, but still were a proud franchise having a ton of success…but all that said, it was the Sharks who would take care of business. They scored early and all night, never taking their skate off the necks of the Stars.
For his part, Ott was a non-factor, and even he had a hard time generating a nice lather of pest—honestly for the most part, he and the rest of his team were simply ignored by the Sharks. The attitude all night displayed by the Sharks was that it was nothing personal, but you guys are awful and we are going to impose our collective will tonight.
A different flavor of beating the teams that you should was last night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, who unlike Dallas, will indeed be in the playoffs and may wind up as the Sharks’ first series. This is the kind of team that you have to beat because you would like to get into their heads a little just in case you run into them in a couple weeks.
This game didn’t start according to plan, and Anaheim jumped all over the Sharks at the end of the first period led 2-0. The Sharks kept their composure though, and it was two of their leaders who must feature prominently in the coming weeks, that answered that call—Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.
Heatley began the rally with an early tally in the second and Marleau tied up the game with a solid goal about three quarters of the way through putting the score even at 2-2.
Now, where the Sharks skill and latter season maturity came through in this game was in what transpired immediately following that tying goal. San Jose seemed to make the collective decision at that point that, though that had fought back and could do it again, they were not going to be put in that position—rather, they were going to put that challenge back on the Ducks and let them fight back.
Everything picked up. They began cycling faster, winning puck battles and outskating the Ducks. They finished checks, won faceoffs, and when Devin Setoguchi put them up late in the 3rd Period with his 21st goal, it seemed fate. Seto scoring almost seemed an eventuality, kind of like when you watch Lionel Messi do his thing—he is just going to score, and the only question is will you need to call somebody after he does to share the did you &$%# see that?! moment that just took place.
Hard work was rewarded, and what started out as a 2-0 game in Anaheim’s favor, eventually turned into four unanswered goals for Team Teal and the Sharks taking the game 4-2.
Two must wins, for very different reasons, but the challenges will keep on coming for the Sharks, including against these very Ducks this coming Wednesday before a home-and-home against another playoff team, the Phoenix Coyotes to wrap up the regular season.
The Sharks are on display, and are sending messages around the NHL. They have a further opportunity to show both Anaheim and Phoenix what they might be up against in the next few days, and what kind of a team the Sharks will feature chasing this year’s Stanley Cup…not the one the critics have defined or even the mediocre one they defined for themselves earlier this season, but the playoff bound team who took the entire second half of the season like they will every game to come…100% personally.
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