Tonight in Vancouver, a dreaded elimination game. The Sharks are one loss away from being knocked out of the race for the cup, a dream that’s eluded the franchise since it entered the league twenty years ago – and drafted Pat Falloon (#2 pick overall).
If I were a betting man, I’d most likely be laying down on the team in blue and green, even though my hope, of course, will be with the Sharks, once again. However, all is not lost. The Canucks have shown a distinct lack of killer instinct in closing out series. Their record in elimination games is 2-4 so far this playoff run. It took them four tries to squeak past the pesky Blackhawks, and then two tries to close out the Nashville Predators in the second round.
So one thing San Jose possibly has going for it: a distinct lack of pressure.
No doubt, as others have reported, the so-called demons of the past linger. This is a team that only missed the playoffs once in the last ten years, has won the division four of the last five seasons (and the President’s Trophy in ’08-09), and holds one of the highest payrolls in the leauge – and yet, has not yet had a chance to play in a championship series. This is as ready a town for a Stanley Cup as you’re likely to find.
At this point, there’s almost nothing to lose. All eyes are on Vancouver – can they close out San Jose is the big question tonight.
The Sharks won’t need to worry about a hometown crowd. They’ll be playing for pride as much as to stave off elimination. Plus, the younger mix of players in this year’s roster (Couture, McGinn, Setoguchi) could get hot in a situation where the gameplan is not as tight, or structured – as surely it should be in this backs-to-the-wall game five. Hey, they ought to be thinking… win this one, and head back home where they have a high probability of winning and forcing a game 7, then anything is possible. It’s not entirely out of the question. Still, it’s the proverbial “one game at a time” thinking that need occupy their minds.
Here’s 3 things the San Jose Sharks need to do to win in Vancouver tonight:
1. Score First
I know it’s a bit cliched and the stats don’t support me on this. In the series San Jose has scored first in three of the games and only won one. But this is a team with fragile confidence, and they’re playing in what will be a madhouse of white at Rogers Arena. They need to score first, desperately.
2. Rattle the Canucks
Vancouver has been criticized (mostly by teams getting crushed by them) for being robotic. Where’s the emotion and heart? The Sedins look at times like twin robots, going about their business – a marvel of efficiency. But if this is what winning looks like for the 2010-11 edition, I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints up north. So the Sharks need to break the machine early. They need to do this with the body. And without taking penalties. Combined with a mix-up in lines, and there’s a chance of that some misdirection will catch the home team of guard.
3. Avoid the Box
We’ve seen what happens when Vancouver’s special teams get going. It’s scary awesome.
If the Sharks come up with check marks for each of the above three items, then expect a W. I anticipate strong games again from Thornton (albeit with a shoulder injury from the Torres hit last game), Marleau and Boyle. One of the wildcards — Heatley, Setoguchi, Pavelski — will need to step up. Niemi should be predictably solid, and there really isn’t any reason to expect an issue there.
Boys, let’s Seek & Destroy.
Photo credit: Evan Leeson, Flickr.