Sharks Showing New Bite
It took the San Jose Sharks more than a year to get to this point, more than a year of being a convenient punchline in many a hockey joke. Heck, when the Washington Capitals were struggling a long in the playoffs before being dismissed by the Habs, I joked that they were playing nervous hockey without conviction, just like the Sharks.
But now Joe Thornton and crew - Joe Pavelski and crew? - have jumped on the tired Detroit Red Wings for two quick wins in their conference semi. I suggested in the that stages of the regular season when it appeared the Sharks might face the Wings in the first round that getting past the two-time Western Conference champs might just be the antidote for San Jose's playoff yips, and maybe that is going to be played out now, albeit in the second round.
Now, the Wings are far from finished. Having picked them to win it all, I can't back away from them now, and they just need to hold serve at home to get back in this series.
That said, they also need to win either four straight against the Sharks, or four out of five, to survive and move on to the conference final. Unless Jimmy Howard gets hot, something he was not in Games 1 and 2, that's going to be tough, particularly with the two-headed monster of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg partially decapitated with Zetterberg struggling to produce.
San Jose, meanwhile, nursed a pair of one-goal leads to the finish line in each of the first two games, not looking at all like a team afraid of success. Pavelski has been the star, and in so doing, with the Sharks still winning, has allowed Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau to gradually find their game without being asked every single day why they're not producing.
Eventually, Pavelski will cool. It will be at that point that the Thornton line will need to heat up, and it could come this week in Motown.
Right now, it looks like the turning point for the Sharks may have come in Game 4 of their opening round series against Colorado after they lost Game 3 in overtime on Dan Boyle's own goal. At that point, it would have been easy for the Sharks to roll their eyes and wonder if this was just the same old script playing itself out again. But they won the fourth game in OT with Pavelski potting the winner and haven't lost a game since.
The assessment of many prior to these playoffs was that this would be the final litmus test for several Sharks, primarily Thornton and Marleau. Instead, what we may be finding out is that what those two needed wasn't necessarily more big game prowes. Maybe they just needed help.
So we'll see this week at The Joe. The Wings will want Game 3 and then hope that puts in the minds of the Sharks the memories of blown playoffs past. But home ice hasn't been especially kind to Mike Babcock's group so far in the post-season, and its worth noting their best performance to date came in Game 7 against Phoenix out in the desert.
Now, they've got an opponent that's tired of being the butt of everyone's joke. That can be a powerful thing.