Friday, April 18, 2008

A Win by Any Other Name is Still a Win

Definitely scary times in the last 10 minutes of the Sharks 4-3 win over Calgary, but they still got the win. The Flames might be able to take some form of solace from their near comeback (and how devastating might it have been if the Sharks had blown a 3 goal THIRD PERIOD lead?), but not really.

One of the big things about the NHL playoffs is it's all about "win and advance." The fact that Calgary got within a goal with just over a minute to go and had a chance to tie means... not much of anything. Reality of the situation is that the team with a greater number of talented players is now up 3 games to 2 in the series and has a chance to close it out on Sunday.

Going into this series, it seemed that the Sharks were a better team on paper than the Flames, but Calgary was a hard-working lunch-pail type crew that would keep coming at you... in some legal ways and others more questionable. The ramifications of this for the Sharkies being that they "should" win the series if they could at least roughly match the Flames in the effort/intensity equation. As the series got underway, this notion has fairly well played out as predicted:

Game one - Sharks lose due to (A) defensive breakdowns... i.e. not clearing the puck and (B) lack of a sense of urgency on offense.

Game two - Sharks win, thanks to solid D coverage and some very timely saves by Evgeni Nabokov.

Game three - The epic collapse game... Sharks blow an early 3 goal lead by sitting back on their heels offensively, not by not clearing the puck out of the defensive zone (anyone remember game one?).

Game four - Big comeback for the Sharks... the goal by Jonathan Cheechoo with five minutes left to tie may have saved the season and that to win it by Joe Thornton with 9.4 seconds left won the game. What was most exciting for this scribe was watching the Sharks offensive pressure in the 20 seconds preceding Big Joe's goal. Imagine if you will a funnel... with the Sharks D and the offensive blue line as the big end and the net behind Mikka Kiprusoff as the little end. Yep, for those 20 seconds, "a river really did run through it." I know it's too much to ask for a team to play like that for an entire game, let alone a postseason, but the Sharks (or any talented team) would be unbeatable applying that type of pressure on a recurring basis.

Game five - Good game. Close game. Fast game. Sharks the better team (pretty much) in the game. San Jose got some more excellent goaltending from Nabokov (who has played at least as well as Kiprusoff in this series) and very timely goals by the super-talented and very hard-working Cheechoo and then held on to win. Going back to prior discussion, it certainly was nettlesome to see them rock back onto their heels and allow Calgary to attack for basically the last 10 minutes, but they got the win, and perhaps will learn a thing or two about how to keep applying pressure even when you've got the lead. Would have been nice if this lesson had fully sunk in after game three, but... a win is a win is a win.

Looking at a big picture reset, five games in, three Sharks victories... two brilliant players on Calgary, higher total skill level on the Sharks. Not to continue hitting an ailing Lipanzer, but it seems the Sharks should be fine if they just keep the focus and effort up, particularly if the hockey Gods should be so kind as to grant them one of those apparently volatile 3 goal leads. Anything can happen in this wacky game of hockey, but it's still the Sharks series to lose.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Definitely looking forward to the Sharks advancing. If they don't, it will be a major failure of the organization because, as you say, they have all of the tools necessary to go deep in the playoffs.