The San Jose Sharks have a chance tonight to put a strangle hold on the Western Conference Semifinals in Detroit, and in doing so, move ever closer to not only changing the course of their own history but their reputation throughout the NHL.
It is theirs for the taking this evening, and Game 3 tonight at the Joe is the next step. It also might wind up being the most difficult game that the San Jose Sharks have faced in recent memory.
The Detroit Red Wings absolutely cannot lose tonight and go down 3-0 in the series to the Sharks, so expect them to play like their lives depend on it…because they do. The Red Wings also need not be reminded that they dropped Game 3 last year against the Sharks, when faced with this exact same situation. Two games following that loss last year, the Wings found themselves on the wrong end of the handshake line and out of the playoffs, so expect nothing to be spared by Detroit tonight as they play 100 percent desperation hockey.
As to changes on the Red Wings tonight, according to Pierre LeBrun over at ESPN, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will be split up tonight by head coach Mike Babcock, and Detroit will roll out Datsyuk, Franzen, Holmstrom and Zetterberg, Cleary, Bertuzzi as their top two lines. No Mike Modano. Expect the Sharks to counter, as they have in the past, with putting Logan Couture up on the top line with Jumbo.
On that particular point, are you still not going to give Logan Couture the Calder Trophy? Seriously? Is this even up for discussion anymore? Top line duty for a rookie on the night of the most important game of the year for his team? Really going to still throw Jeff Skinner and Michael Grabner at me East Coast media, two guys who stopped playing about a month ago? Give it to Logan now, save the ceremony and let him take it out to the bars later.
Speaking of East Coast bias, it is interesting to hear how the so-called hockey experts are beginning to talk about the Sharks now. Really, just an attitude seen over the last couple of days, but for the first time in memory, you are seeing the Sharks starting to get the respect due a favorite. Now, for any Sharks fan out there, young or old, being thought of as the favorite in a series with the Red Wings is a unique position to be in, and actually a little beyond comprehension, after playing little brother to Detroit for so many years.
To be fair, the San Jose Sharks built up that choke squad reputation all on their own, and you can’t really use the media bias defense here. Going back to the 2004 playoffs, the year that began their current streak of postseason play, the Sharks were knocked out by the eight-seed three times, the sixth-seed once and a fifth-seed once.
But to try to paint this current San Jose Sharks team as even remotely resembling those disappointing ones of past years is off base and old news, and the critics are starting to realize it. Even the ones hell bent on denigrating the Sharks at every turn, just because they’re not an Original 6 team and it’s warm here in September, haven’t had a lot to say over the course of the last two games, as the Sharks play is taking away all of their underachiever ammunition.
Simply put, knocking off the Detroit Red Wings two years running would not be the work of a playoff choke artist, the stinging moniker that Sharks teams of the past have carried around with them like luggage. Nor, would it be the result of coddled superstars who lack grit, or arrogant assumptive players getting in over their heads, and waking up too late to realize it.
Also, beating a perennial powerhouse like Detroit two years running, would fly in the face of the argument that states any team out of the Pacific Division has bloated numbers, due to an easy schedule against subpar division talent and shouldn’t be taken seriously in the first place.
How about hanging that soft, finesse banner around the San Jose Sharks neck? Nope, that too would also seem a ridiculous charge that ignores reality, and the physical play that has characterized the Detroit series, and existed throughout the Sharks last one with a determined Los Angeles team.
Now, all of that said, you would be hard pressed to find one individual on the San Jose Sharks that probably cared a thing about public sentiment, East Coast bias or the opinion of any one bloviating Canadian hockey literati, who is clearly still suffering from residual angst over Wayne Gretzky bailing the country 22 years ago.
All this team cares about is winning that fourth game, and moving on to the next round. That’s it. There exists a singular focus that permeates both the players and its coaching staff, which insulates them against believing their own positive press clippings or even reading the bad ones.
They are above it.
Still, heading into the most important game of the year, and one of the bigger ones in San Jose Sharks history tonight, it has to feel good to get just a little respect.
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