Friday, April 25, 2008

Teal Thursdays 2- April 24, 2008

Well, it took a bit longer than Sharks fans probably expected, and definitely a bit longer than they would have liked, but the Sharks ultimately got the job done. Team teal capped a 4-3 series win with a dominating 5-3 performance in game seven. The victory means the Sharks will move on to face the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Game five on Friday night proved to be a wild affair. The Sharks entered the third period with a 2-1 lead on the strength of a beautiful Patrick Marleau wrist shot and an acrobatic save by Evgeni Nabokov, on which he was initially beat, but dove back to swipe the puck away as it trickled towards the goal line. The Sharks appeared poised to run away with the contest when Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals in the first half of the third period giving the Sharks a 4-1 lead; but the Flames came roaring back, cutting the score to 4-3. Despite a late flurry, the Flames attack ultimately fell just short thanks to 33 saves from Evgeni Nabokov.

The Sharks then took their act to the Pengrowth Saddle Dome, where they hoped to close out the series in game six. Any excitement from the Sharks end was quickly stifled, however. The Sharks came out flat, managing only 21 shots on goal, and handing Mikka Kiprusoff his only shutout of the post-season. Ex-captain Owen Nolan notched the game winner just 11 minutes into what proved to be the Sharks weakest performance of the post season so far.

Six games having settled nothing, the teams traveled back to Silicone Valley, where 60 minutes of playoff hockey would determine who would move on, and who would hit the links. While the Sharks lacked a killer instinct in game six, the threat of another early playoff threat having become imminent, the Pacific division champs came out flying for game seven. After tinkering with the lines for much of the series, Coach Ron Wilson went back to lines that closely resembled those of the 18-0-2 streak. The Cheechoo-Thornton Michalek and Rissmiller-Grier-Mitchell lines were restored, while Jody Shelly was scratched, giving a spot to Devin Setoguchi on the fourth line (alongside Goc and Roenick) and keeping the red hot Clowe-Marleau-Pavelski line in tact. On the blueline, the only change from the regular season was a sidelined Kyle McLaren giving way to Matt Carl, who had stepped in and played a phenomenal series for the Sharks.

Once play began, superstars Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla traded powerplay goals sending the teams into the first intermission tied at 1, despite a decided 14-5 advantage in shots for the Sharks. Despite the great start, early in the second period the Sharks appeared to be in trouble. Just 3 minutes into the second period, Brian Campbell was caught out of position, and the hero of the Sharks last game seven victory, Owen Nolan turned a questionable Douglas Murray pinch into a flukey breakaway goal on which Nabokov made the initial save, but the rebound caromed off of Nolan’s shin pad and into the net for a 2-1 Calgary lead.

Last year, veteran leadership had proven the Sharks Achilles heel in a second round playoff exit. With game seven in jeopardy, they got just that, as 38 year old Jeremy Roenick took over. JR knotted the game at 2 on a Setoguchi screen and a seeing-eye wrister that snuck through Mikka Kiprusoff. Just 3 minutes later, Roenick put home his own rebound and gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead, capping it off with one of the greatest goofy/awkward celebrations in playoff history.

The Sharks didn’t stop there though, as minutes later the pride of Plover, Wisconsin Joe Pavelski put a rebound top shelf, chasing Kiprusoff, and giving the Sharks a 4-2 lead. Devin Setoguchi then scored his first playoff goal, giving the Sharks a 5-2 lead and capping a 4 goal, 21 shot second period on the first shot seen by Curtis Joseph. Another former Shark, Wayne Primeau scored the only goal of the third, and 20 after 25 minutes of lock down hockey, the Sharks had secured a birth in the second round.

Looking back now, in last week’s post, I said that there were five keys to beating the Flames. Here they are again, but with a recap and a grade of how the Sharks fared in these areas for the first round

1. Get Big Joe Going- Thornton finished the series with two goals and five assists. These aren’t spectacular numbers, but they are pretty good, certainly a bit better than the last few years. Thornton also had a presence outside of the score sheet, playing physically and doing lots of little things. Score- 8/10

2. Get to the Net- Simply by watching highlights, it is easy to see that the Sharks did this exceptionally well this series. Kipper was constantly screened, and when he did kick out rebounds, he paid the price. Score- 9.5/10

3. Limit Iginla- 9 points in 7 games is hardly shutting someone down. Iginla was a force for the entire series, showing why he is one of the elite superstars in all of hockey. However, I said to limit, not stop Iginla, and he was a -1 on the series. Score- 5/10

4. Attack- For 5.5 of 7 games, the Sharks were on the attack. In game six, they inexplicably played not to lose, and after going up 3-0 in game 4, they sat back and let Calgary take it to them. Other than those two games though, a pretty good job here. Score- 6/10

5. Get the puck out- I couldn’t possibly handicap this for the entire series, having watched only game seven in its entirety, but Grier and Mitchell were both pluses on their +/-, and in game seven the Sharks did an excellent job, so I will give them a tentative 8. Score- 8/10

Finally, before I move on and look ahead to the Dallas series, here are the three stars of round one. Before I get to the Sharks, two Flames stood out to me, and deserve to be mentioned. Jarome Iginla showed that he is one of the best players in the game. As I said, he scored 9 points and was terrifying every time he touched the puck. The second was a surprise, but I think that Owen Nolan showed that he has a little bit left in the tank.

Firstly a couple of Sharks deserve honorable mention. Joe Thornton, as mentioned above, was very good. He is capable of a little bit more, I think, but certainly didn’t disappoint in round one. Jeremy Roenick also deserves mention, mainly for a clutch performance in game seven. Roenick may have saved the Sharks season with his two goals, but won’t quite crack the top three because they were his only two of the series. Lastly, Matt Carl stepped in after an absence from the lineup after Matt Carl was acquired and was outstanding. Carl may have been the Sharks best defenseman at times. Carl’s game still has some holes (albeit ones that should will disappear with experience), but he confirmed in this series what most Sharks fans already know; when Matt Carl is well rested, he is an outstanding defenseman.

The third star for the Sharks was Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheech scored three of the biggest goals of the series. His spectacular shot from a bad angle that saved game 4 may have been the biggest play in swinging momentum to the Sharks side in the series. Cheechoo appeared to step it up down the stretch after a lackluster start and was able to carry his momentum into the first round of the playoffs.

Ryan Clowe returned from ACL surgery, stepping right in on the second line and onto the score sheet for San Jose. Clowe was one of only a few Sharks that put in seven solid efforts this series, and was rewarded for it, notching 4 goals in the first four games. Clowie’s gritty performance goes to show just how valuable being well rested can prove this time of year.

Finally, keeping with a theme of resurgence, you have Patrick Marleau, the first star of the 2008 Western Conference Quarter Finals for the San Jose Sharks. As good as Clowie was, much of his production came off of superb efforts from Marleau. Marleau brought outstanding energy. As long as he has been in the league, there has been a simple way to tell if he has been on his game. When Marleau is going, opposing defensemen usually are backing up on every rush when #12 is on the ice, giving the Sharks ample time to maneuver and create opportunities off of breaks. Calgary has an excellent crew on the blue line, headlined by Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich and Dion Phaneuf, but Pavelski, Marleau and Clowe had tons of space to work with, which they turned into 9 goals in 7 games.

So it took a little bit longer than expected, but Calgary is out of the way. After a lackluster first round performance by the Quack Squad, the Stars have aligned for the Sharks to face off with Dallas in round 2. Believe it or not, this is the first time that the pacific division rivals have squared off in the post season. As I did last round (albeit a little bit late), I will leave you with 5 keys to success in round two.

  1. STEP UP- The Sharks need their defensemen to be on their game in round two. This means that Brian Campbell must return to the form that he saw at the end of the regular season, not the semi-trance that he appeared to be in for much of the first round. Behind Campbell, the Sharks need Vlasic, Rivet, Erhoff, Carl, McLaren and Murray to have a good series. Against Calgary, one or two guys could carry the load. Dallas has much better secondary scoring, so all of the Sharks D-men have got to bring their A-game in round two.
  2. WAKE UP- First of all, Brian Campbell. While Greason is convinced that he is a poor defender, I still believe (based on watching him for a couple of weeks shortly after the deadline) that he is capable in his own zone. He will need to be, but also will need to regain the magic he had in the regular season with the puck on his stick. Milan Michalek also needs to find another gear. He was invisible for much of the first round. Milan is one of the Sharks top 5 forwards, without a doubt, and he needs to be for the offense to be in gear.
  3. GET UP- For every game that is. In the first round, the Sharks came out flat for two of the seven games, and collapsed in a third. The Sharks may be able to sneak by Dallas in similar fashion, but I wouldn’t count on it. The goal needs to be to come out flying every night this time.
  4. BANG UP- Last round I said that the Sharks needed to drive the net in order to put pucks away against one of the best goalies in the league, Kiprusoff. The task doesn’t get any easier this round, as the boys go up against Marty Turco. Once again, getting traffic in front will be key.
  5. SHUT DOWN- Brad Richards was the Stars biggest addition and has been getting most of the attention in big D, but Mike Modano is quite simply a Shark killer. He is, and has been for quite a while, our kryptonite. My recommendation for shutting him down would be to take a 2x4 to his knees in the parking lot. I nominate Jamie Baker, Brian Marchment, Alexi Seminov or SJ Sharkie for the job. Failing that, the Sharks D need to play aggressive, getting in Modano’s face and taking away his time and space.

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