Despite venturing into enemy territory, despite losing Martin Havlat midway through the first period, despite a prior injury to Jason Demers forcing them to ice a pairing of Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart and despite what appeared from most angles to be an own-goal as disastrous as it was fluky, a Sharks team that has been historically criticized for lacking the ill-defined but all-important quality of playoff resiliency manufactured just that in a 3-1 Game 1 victory over Vancouver.
They're now leading their first-round series against the Canucks. Perhaps as important is the fact that they've already managed to pull off that elusive road victory that was obviously going to be key to the Sharks escaping with their postseason lives. In the process, they've wrestled home-ice advantage away from the Canucks; all San Jose will have to do now is win Games 3, 4 and 6 in the friendly confines of the Shark Tank in order to move on to the second round.
But the real story of this game wasn't that the Sharks won it on the road, it was that their defense smothered a high-octane Canucks attack with forward depth to spare and Logan Couture was once again at the center of it all. Couture scored a power play goal and added an assist but, beyond that, drew the Sedin twins at even-strength for much of the night in a matchup Todd McLellan was deft enough to manipulate and utterly contained them. Henrik, Daniel and Alexandre Burrows simply weren't able to get to the scoring area five aside and spent more time defending than they're accustomed to thanks largely to the play of Couture, his wingers and the team's shutdown pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.
To be fair, the Canucks can lay claim to an excellent defensive game at even-strength as well; we knew the difference between these teams was miniscule coming into the series and nothing that happened tonight suggests we were wrong about that. After a first period decisively dominated by the Sharks, the Canucks bounced back with a commanding frame of their own, albeit only getting on the scoreboard when Raffi Torres (who was once again a physical force to be reckoned with in this game, on numerous occasions bludgeoning poor rookie Frank Corrado) inadvertently slid the puck past both Antti Niemi and a sprawling Couture during an in-the-crease scrum.
Despite a few questionable non-calls, including what appeared pretty conclusively to be a Jannik Hansen headshot on T.J. Galiardi, the Sharks drew their fair share of penalties tonight and went back on the power play with four minutes remaining in the middle period. Some crisp puck movement culminated in Dan Boyle finding Couture in the high slot, who wired one past Roberto Luongo to tie the game.
Speaking of Luongo, he was brilliant in the first period and it's difficult to lay this loss at his feet although you can rest assured the Vancouver media will find a way to do just that. Additionally, the Sharks' injury-necessitated lineup alteration of having to continue icing the Hannan/Stuart pairing was far less disastrous than it could have been. Hannan made a few gaffes in the neutral zone, one of which led to arguably the Canucks' best even-strength scoring chance, but both players finally exhibited the kind of defensive presence behind their own blueline that they're capable of providing and weren't victimized nearly as often by some of Vancouver's speedier wingers as you would have expected.
Granted, those wingers didn't play the greatest of games and the Canucks as a whole had trouble generating much offense to speak of the in the third period. For their part, the Sharks were rarely able to generate quality looks at the net either given how tightly contested every inch of ice proved to be over the final twenty minutes. But when they earned those looks, San Jose made them count.
Midway through the third period, Joe Pavelski beat Dan Hamhuis to a loose puck in the corner, skated to the left wing half-wall then threw a seemingly harmless backhand shot on net that created another scramble in the crease. This time, a prone Tommy Wingels worked the puck to a pinching Dan Boyle to give the Sharks their first lead of the night. Minutes later, this happened:
Followed, presumably, by this, somewhere in Bristol:
There's still work to be done for the Sharks, particularly in creating more legitimate offensive opportunities because it's unlikely they'll be able to hold Vancouver to such a minimal total in that department over the entirety of this series. Still, they did it tonight and were able to combine it with another stellar performance from Antti Niemi to move one win closer to their ultimate goal.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Logan Couture
2nd Star: Antti Niemi
3rd Star: Dan Boyle