When we broke this series down before it began, very little about it seemed to be lopsided in either team's favor. Both clubs boasted a deep forward corps, a capable defense and excellent goaltending. The lone advantage for either side appeared to be the Sharks' edge on special teams, always a risky element to bank on in postseason play when officials are reserved and whistles scarce. Still, we opined that if this series was somehow decided on special teams, the Sharks would win it.
As it turns out, the series was decided on special teams. Like, literally decided on special teams. In that the Sharks tied Game 4 late in the third period on a Joe Pavelski power play goal, then won it as Patrick Marleau capped an incredible performance with the series winner as the Sharks skated five on four. As a result, San Jose becomes the first team to move on to the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals after completing the franchise's first ever playoff sweep.
For such an unexpectedly short series, there was no shortage of heroes in teal. Pavelski and Logan Couture are tied with Evgeni Malkin for the league lead in playoff scoring and both figured prominently tonight. Pavelski scored twice on the power play, including a spin-around shot that beat Cory Schneider with five minutes remaining in the first period. Couture assisted on both of Pavelski's goals, attacking the rebound of a Joe Thornton shot in order to work it to an open Captain America at the mouth of the crease to tie this one. Thornton himself finished with six points in four games, wreaking havoc in protected minutes at even-strength alongside Brent Burns and T.J. Galiardi and shooting the puck--much to the approval of 17,562 at the Tank--on that overtime power play to create the game-winner.
But no one quite compares to the perennially maligned Marleau who turned in one of the best playoff series of a career filled with standout postseason performances. He also saved his best for last, taking over Game 4 every time he stepped over the boards. Dialed in all night, Marleau was ferocious on the backcheck, continuously used his speed to faciliate smooth defensive zone exits and offensive zone entries and was lethally explosive in transition. Oh, and he did all of that while being hard-matched against the Sedin twins. It was only fitting that his eighth goal in nine playoff games against Vancouver swept the Canucks, spiraling them into what promises to be a chaotic offseason.
Meanwhile, the Sharks will move on. By no means was this a perfect series for them despite the final count of wins and losses; they were fortunate to be up 2-0 heading back to the Bay Area after a Game 2 the Canucks thoroughly controlled five aside. But when this series shifted to San Jose, as they have all season, the Sharks were dominant at home and the power play, as we tentatively predicted, played an enormous role in the team choking the playoff life out of Vancouver. With several series already guaranteed to go at least six games, the Sharks will have some time to rest which can only be seen as a positive given the questionable status of Martin Havlat, Jason Demers and, after drawing two penalties in injurious fashion tonight, potentially Tommy Wingels.
A second round comprised by Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis would be particularly awesome in ensuring the Sharks a full-on revenge tour if they can keep winning. Regardless of how it all shakes out, the Sharks will face a daunting team next week. But after sweeping a hell of a club in Vancouver, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit optimistic about their chances.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Patrick Marleau
2nd Star: Logan Couture
3rd Star: Joe Pavelski