Game 2 brought back flashbacks of years past.
The bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled San Jose Sharks played as if they were anything but bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled. At the first sign of adversity in the playoffs, the Sharks crumbled. Exhibit A: In 2006 the Sharks got off to a 2-0 lead over Edmonton in the Conference Semi-Finals, then lost 4 straight and was sent packing Exhibit B: In 2007 when they were about to take a 3-1 series lead against Detroit and gave up the game-tying goal with under a minute left then never controlled a part of any game for the rest of the series Exhibit C: In 2008 against the Stars when they didn’t want to start playing hard until they were down 3-0 in the series Exhibit D: In 2009 against the Ducks when they looked EXACTLY like they did on Saturday, losing games because they simply DID NOT want to work hard enough to beat the other team.
Many people outside of San Jose don’t understand why so many Sharks fans are hitting the panic button so soon because they don’t understand that we know this play all too well, it is all too characteristic of our Sharks. It always starts with some bad break or adversity. After this bad break, players stop winning one on one battles, they stop getting in shooting lanes, they stop passing well,they stop crowding in the crease and owning the front of the net. It simply appears that they stop trying.
When you see this side of the Sharks appear after believing it was gone for good, after you knew there was no way this team could not care enough to bring every ounce of effort to the playoffs after so much heartbreak and apathy in the past, you can’t help but wonder how you can care so much about a team when that team itself appears to be too bothered to put out its best effort in the playoffs.
We lost in 4 games to a superior Chicago Blackhawks team in the Conference Finals last year. I could not have been more proud of the Sharks last season. They competed, they gave everything they had. They outshot the Blackhawks by wide margins, the only difference was that the Blackhawks were simply a little bit more skilled and their goaltender, who is our goaltender now, outplayed Nabokov.
Game 2 was different from anything we saw last season. In Game 2 played a Los Angeles Kings team without 2.5 of its top 5 forwards (The .5 is for Williams who has a dislocated shoulder). We came out and played well early. Then we did not score on the Power Play, took a penalty and the Kings buried it on their Power Play chance. That was all it took for the Sharks to turn into Guppies. For the rest of the game we failed to establish a strong fore-check, we didn’t finish checks, we lost nearly every one on one battle for the puck, were dominated in front of the net in our end and in their end and displayed the amazing ability to simply appear detached from the game.
So now the Sharks face true adversity. Can they rally from a loss like that? Can they dig deep and find a reason to care? We know that the Sharks are bigger, faster, stronger, and more skilled. The next time we hit a bump in the road will we fold like we have in so many seasons, like we did on Saturday night, or will we show the world that we truly are a Stanley Cup Contender?
Tune in tonight at 7:30PST to find out if the Sharks are contenders or mere pretenders.