Monday, May 27, 2013
Loose Sharks kicking around an upset
By Pierre LeBrun
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The hooting and hollering was unmistakable in the hallway outside the San Jose Sharks’ dressing room before Game 6 Sunday night.
The laughter could be heard a mile away. A bunch of goofs kicking around a soccer ball and sounding like college freshmen up to no good.
"Yeah, a bunch of idiots," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said while laughing after his team extended its season with a clutch 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
"That may have been the loudest soccer game of the season," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said. "They were loose and ready to play."
It’s just further proof that this edition of the Sharks is different than previous incarnations. In the past, you couldn’t escape the suffocating tension that seemed to take hold of this team around a big playoff game.
But these guys? They’re as loose as any Sharks team I’ve seen before.
"When we’ve been loose this year, it seems that’s when we play our best hockey," Thornton, who opened the scoring Sunday, said. "We try to have a lot of fun. Everyone enjoys each other’s company. It feels like a team."
With their season on the line Sunday, the Sharks were cracking one-liners in the dressing room before game time.
"As the season has gone on, we’ve kind of figured out that this group isn’t good when it’s tight or nervous or when nobody’s talking," winger Adam Burish, who returned from injury, said. "The silence in this room can kill us, so guys tonight before the game were cracking jokes, talking about the game. Just the chatter loosens everyone up. It was loose, but it was confident."
Most telling of Sunday’s victory was the way the Sharks closed it out. Instead of hanging on for dear life like they did in their Game 4 victory when the Kings were all over them right to the final buzzer, this time San Jose played a poised and intelligent game in the third period and really didn’t allow the Kings to get much at all.
"We came in after the second period and we were happy with the way we were playing," Sharks winger T.J. Galiardi, whose second-period goal stood as the winner, said. "The one thing we wanted to do is keep our D active. They were the main reason we had so much zone time tonight. They came down and had great pinches. It’s hard to handle when D do that."
You expected the Kings to push hard in the final period, but the Sharks kept them pinned in their zone for long stretches instead.
"I thought we played a solid third period, took some of their strengths away from them," McLellan said. "But it’s still a pretty even game. No matter how high we elevate our game, they are right there. I don’t see it changing for Game 7."
The reality is that this series has been oh-so-close, as evenly played as a series can possibly be. There’s almost nothing separating these two teams. It’s going down to the wire, as it probably should be.
"It’s a fine line," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said.
The edge most people view is Jonathan Quick over Antti Niemi in goal, but the latter has held his own so far in this series.
"Both goaltenders in this series have been tremendous," McLellan said. "I thought Nemo was very solid tonight; he was a calming influence for us."
Two trends loom large entering Game 7. The home team is 6-0 in this series, which is also the record of the team scoring first in this series. The Kings have won 13 straight at home, and that’s going to be a focal point heading into Tuesday. The Sharks will point to the second trend, scoring first, as their best shot at finally winning at Staples Center.
The way they started Sunday is what they want to duplicate come Tuesday.
"From start to finish, the game was hard, but we played the right way," Burish said. "We played exactly how we said we wanted to play. We had a great start. When they scored, we just settled down and stayed with it. It felt like it might have been our best game of the series. Hopefully, that’s something we can gain some confidence from going into a big Game 7."
The Kings played a good road game but early penalties led to a 5-on-3 power play that allowed San Jose to open the scoring on Thornton’s goal.
What will be the key to Game 7 for the Kings?
"For us, it would be to stay away from those penalties early," Sutter said. "Other than that, we played pretty well tonight."
Galiardi’s goal was his first of the playoffs, the Sharks desperately hoping to see somebody other than their usual suspects get on the board.
"An unusual suspect would be T.J.," McLellan said.
Galiardi didn’t hide his relief to have finally gotten on the board.
"Oh, man, it’s huge," he said. "Jumbo [Thornton] always chirps me and says I’ll score only when the boys need me the most, so I guess he was right."
If the "idiots" yuk it up again before Game 7 outside the visitors’ dressing room at Staples Center, you know the Sharks have a shot.
"We really don’t have anything to lose," McLellan said. "We’re going to play Game 7 against the Stanley Cup champs in their building. We look forward to that challenge."