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NHL Playoffs: Coin Flip...Which Sharks Team Shows Up Tonight?

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So, which team do we get tonight?

Last Thursday night saw an electric beginning to the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the San Jose Sharks.  With playoff hockey anticipation in the air, the Tank was abuzz with energy, the teal pervasive and the beer cold.  Even the “Bad Boy Bail Bonds” guy who sits behind the Sharks bench seemed to sense the rarity of the moment as he was dressed up as what appeared to be either Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife or Sammy Hagar.

Given his vocation, I’m leaning towards Mrs. Dog…maybe Carlos Valderrama.

Regardless, with the rally towels on full spin cycle, the Sharks entered the ice through the yeah-it’s-a-little-dated-but-it’s-staying-so-save-it smoking shark mouth to “Seek and Destroy,” which had to please none other than James Hetfield himself who was sitting rinkside.

Music-wise, this is a big step up from what I will term the “Coldplay Days” days of yore.

Even as late as last year, outside of the sweet classic organ music (put down masterfully by house organist James Michael Day), the music played at the Tank seemed less worthy of a rabid hockey coliseum and more like it was coming from some tweenager’s pink iPod.

As for the game, before the pre-game smoke had even cleared, Dany Heatley had his arms in the air courtesy of a strike registered on the Sharks’ very first shift.  Throughout the remainder of the first period, the Sharks battled and fought and took the fight to the Los Angeles Kings and epitomized exactly what a playoff team was supposed to be.  

When Kings forward Jarett Stoll ran Sharks defenseman Ian White face first into the boards, knocking him out of the game with a cheap shot, there was no wondering if San Jose would answer the physical challenge.  There was no time to wonder.  Ben Eager made sure of that as he immediately worked on settling the score using King’s hump Kyle Clifford’s jaw to do so.  Eager finished the fight, pointed over at a smirking Stoll on the Kings bench and told him that one was for him.

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Great fight, great start and a helluva period to build on.

The game would tighten up a little after that, with the Sharks and Kings trading goals before heading into the third period tied at two goals apiece.  Nothing would break the logjam in the final period of regulation, and the teams would have to go to OT to decide it.  Then, in a flashback to last year, there was Joe Pavelski to provide the magic with his usual brand of game-winning goal heroics.  Pavs for President…long live the Plover Rover!

Yes, there were tense moments to be sure during Game 1, and this was no blow out, but the San Jose Sharks came out fighting.  They protected their own, played their game, and most importantly, exhibited high physical effort throughout the game.  They were scrappy, they sold out with maximum effort and they won because of it.

Then, two nights later, the San Jose Sharks showed up with a different team for Game 2.

This would be the evil alter ego team, and the one that more than tries the souls of Sharks fans everywhere when it surfaces.  Oh yeah, you know the team.  Certainly a more infrequent sight than in years past, but this circus squad usually shows up a few times during the season.  And the Bizarro Sharks showed up Saturday night.  Problem now is that this isn’t laying some egg of a game in Buffalo in December…this is stinking up your own joint in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In Game 2, the lackluster Sharks were roundly dispatched by the Kings by a score of 4-0, and it wasn’t even that close.  For the Sharks, it was a symphony of bad penalties, ineffective special teams and trying to overcompensate for both of those failings by trying at about a 75% level.

The Sharks and some of their fans bemoan the fact that the hockey press seems to rail the team every playoff season as pretenders, states emphatically that here now will begin yet another unsuccessful run by an underachieving team and never seems to give the Sharks respect or a shot—another let down by a paper tiger coming folks.

Some of the criticism is overly harsh, some of it is because we use the U.S. Dollar around here, some is penalizing us for living in San Jose versus the tundra somewhere, but some is well placed.  Bottom line, the easiest way for the Sharks to cease the hate is to stop turning in performances like Saturday night.

Where do you think those writers and pundits get those crazy ideas from?

This goes beyond not answering the call or catching a few bad breaks.  This is about coasting around the ice, playing with zero discipline and taking stupid penalties.  This is about not battling for much of anything, and executing a game plan seemingly comprised of equal parts apathy and the expectation that a high volume of unscreened shots will equate to eventual goals.

Seriously, stop me if you’ve heard the one that starts the Sharks outshot the (insert team) by a (insert high %) margin, but unfortunately lost.

In a shock to Sharks fans, I can report that shot count for the series is currently in favor of the San Jose (79-58), but that the goal total is in the Kings favor (6-3).  You don’t need to be Pierre LeBrun to  formulate from this that the Kings seem to be taking better shots.  As for special teams, the Sharks PP, which came in at the No. 2 in the NHL is now 0-7, while defensively, San Jose has allowed three goals in nine opportunities on the PK.  Despite those bleak figures, the Sharks outhit and won more faceoffs than the Kings in Game 2…but until those start counting on the scoreboard, good job.

Sure, that tuck in gift off the stick of Justin Williams in Game 1 wasn’t because of superior LA game planning, but you work hard and you make your own breaks and the Kings are doing just that.  You know what wasn’t luck?  Ryane Clowe throwing the elbow shiver on the faceoff that led to a penalty and a goal in Game 2.  It also wasn’t luck that Antti Niemi was being effectively screened all night by the Kings, or that the Sharks didn’t seem to be getting down to block shots to help him out at all during key moments.

Following the game, I caught Drew Remenda on the post-game where he stated that it was a good thing for the Sharks to have to live with this effort for a couple of days, and that the coaching staff would have plenty of video to share with the players.  One of the things that makes Remenda so great is this kind of unbiased opinion.  There is no doubt that he bleeds Teal, and that he gets as pumped as a “since the Cow Palace”  season-ticket holder when the Sharks are rolling.

But, there is also no doubt that he sounds visibly ill when they are not playing up to potential—such was his attitude following Game 2.

So, which team shows up tonight?  Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?  Who knows, but I know a team that could care less about the Sharks finding themselves and getting their mental attitude in line with their physical effort—the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s now a best of 5 series with the Kings now in charge of the home ice and currently also in charge of the momentum.

If the Sharks wait until Game 6 or 7 for the proverbial statement game, it will be too late.  That statement game needs to happen tonight, or the Sharks risk going down the path that the critics have already predicted for them…and having only themselves to blame when the overrated banner is placed over their season.

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Tags: Blades Of Teal Joe Pavelski Los Angeles Kings NHL Playoffs S.M. Williams San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup

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