Preview: Western Conference Quarter-Finals -- San Jose Sharks vs. Calgary Flames

My timing remains impeccable. Not only is my back still twitchy and twinging on a regular basis, I've come down with some upper respiratory bug that for the past week and a half has provided me with a vicious cough and an ever-increasing case of the overall sensation known by those run over by a truck. Or a full force Kyle McLaren hip check. And the playoffs start tonight. Ah well. Stuff myself full of assorted medicines and get on with it time.

Anyway, here's what I see as the keys to this series:

Time for Level Three. The Sharks spent much of the first half this year playing at Level One, a place where they not only believed victory would come through sheer talent alone but put this philosophy into practice. End result? Some wins, and some very embarrassing losses against teams who forgot to read the pre-season press clippings about Los Tiburones de San José being a cinch for the Stanley Cup. Thankfully, this was eventually supplanted by Level Two where the Sharks started playing hockey instead of putting on a figure skating exhibition. Well, what do you know... wins. A lot of them. Sweet.

Now comes the post-season and with it a challenge to the Sharks to do what they have failed to do this time of year the past three years: take it to Level Three, the one declaring you have to pay the cost to be the boss. Every player on every shift in every game has to be maximum effort. Every challenge has to be met not with an equal challenge, but a greater one. The Sharks have to want it; want it more than the other team, want it to the point where they will do whatever it takes to win. San Jose has to take the other team's best shot and then deliver a better one. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will win. Nothing.

Calgary's Big Boys. You know the names, no need to look up the numbers -- Jarome Iginla, the standard by which all on-ice leaders are judged; Miikka Kiprusoff, who can steal a series should he be on it; Dion Phaneuf, defender and deliverer of destructive checks; and Alex Tanguay, who despite being absent far more often from the score sheet than normal this year has a penchant for turning the lamp red whenever the other team wears teal. Great players all. But they're also pretty much all the Flames have to offer. Contain them, control the rest with far superior depth.

Take off that red shirt. Not a key to the series; more of a sideshow issue. Canadian teams always bring out a cluster of devoted fans; God bless every one of them. That noted, they also have this unfortunate habit of bringing with them a contingent of Molson-soaked motormouthed mushminds who turn Weird Al Yankovic's "Canadian Idiot" from parody to documentary. Do we have to pretend to be nice to them?

That's pretty much it. Play at the next level, play the entire game at the next level, use your greater depth to your advantage, don't give Kiprusoff a chance to so much as breathe. Should the Sharks do these things, they will advance to the next round. If not, and they go one and done, there had better be some major changes this off-season. Because there are no more excuses.