The Sharks could obviously make huge process in their quest to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a win Sunday in San Jose. And while our city might be scorchingly hot in early May, it's still a hockey city. And as HP Pavilion gets progressively louder, as it has been known to do, Vancouver is going to feel just how strong of a hockey city this is.
Yes, San Jose's fans are dedicated and enthusiastic about their team. With that enthusiasm comes criticism, though, as strong feelings usually lead to strong opinions. While I'm not precluding anyone from holding those opinions, they have had the tendency to stick around longer than they should.
I know I'm a bit of a Patrick Marleau fanboy. I know that my teal colored glasses can occasionally lead me to defend him when his play doesn't deserve the praise I heap upon him. I'll admit that. But when people say can't recognize Patrick Marleau as this franchise's defining superstar, it's troubling.
Marleau has been called gutless and heartless. He's been accused of disappearing in the playoffs. But in reality, his flaws are small compared to what he brings to the table for this team. And so far in this series, the man who many say "doesn't show up for the postseason", has scored a goal in each game... including a hard fought winner in game two to send what looked like a series evening loss into overtime.
The team's former captain isn't the only one identified as a reason for the Shark's inability to yet reach the mecca of the NHL. Any player who's been with the team for more than a few seasons is often treated more as part of the problem than part of the solution, and that includes the team's current captain, too. But Joe Thornton has been up to the task as well, scoring two goals of his own to share the team lead with Marleau. I'll give some praise to Dan Boyle too for his young playoff performance. And Antti Niemi, who may get as much heat as anyone not wearing 12, has been spectacular as well. He's had a tremendous amount of sex this year. Success. (I jest, but that poor girl. Can't believe she got fired for that.)
These wins have been a team effort, though, and the team includes some new faces. Raffi Torres may be a prick, but he's been extremely effective this season; he has played the role that Ryane Clowe tried to play the last few years. As much as it pains me to say, Torres has played that role to a much, much more successful degree.
Tonight, the Sharks may get Scott Gomez back into the lineup (Update - he's in). Gomez brings significant offensive ability to the team's bottom six, as well as their second power play unit. With Havlat injured, the backup squad has pretty much been "watch Brent Burns be awesome". Brent Burns is awesome, but he can't do it alone. Getting Gomez back should help.
The Sharks have to win two before the Canucks win four. And they get a shot to do that on home ice. I think everyone would be happy if they could end this quickly.
Projected Sharks Lineup
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Raffi Torres
T.J. Galiardi - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Andrew Desjardins - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
Adam Burish - Scott Gomez - James Sheppard
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart
Projected Canucks Lineup
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Derek Roy - Ryan Kesler
Mason Raymond - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
Dale Weise - Andrew Ebbett - Jannik Hansen
Dan Hamhuis - Jason Garrison
Alex Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Andrew Alberts - Frank Corrado