Sharks Gameday: Adversity



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Watching the San Jose Sharks over the last eight games has reminded me a lot of their six game losing streak back in the middle of January. This is not to suggest they've taken a step backwards in their game--although, to be fair, it's hard not to suggest that they have-- but merely to illustrate just what they face tonight in Vancouver.

During that six game losing streak the San Jose Sharks struggled and dominated, beat themselves and just got beat. It mirrors what we've seen from the team lately, and honestly, exemplifies exactly what this sport is all about. Game four against Detroit was a back and forth affair that could have gone either way, game five was a dominant effort erased by fifteen minutes of breakdowns, game six could have been a blowout if not for the brilliance of Antti Niemi, and game seven was a well-matched game that saw the Sharks control more portions of the tilt than not.

Game one against Vancouver was well-matched until the end of the second, game two was back and forth until the fateful third period reared its ugly head, game three shouldn't have been as close as it was, and game four was a heartbreaker.

In San Jose's last eight games where they have gone 2-6 they have played three great games and have only gotten severely outplayed once. The other four they found ways to beat themselves, either by having a mental lapse in a single period or failing to capitalize on their opportunities. Credit both Detroit and Vancouver for being excellent opponents that are able to take advantage of course (which is something that is always hard to do when you're writing for a specific audience), but those breakdowns are just as much a product of the opposing team as they are San Jose's own failures.

The Sharks best chance to win this series was Sunday afternoon. What I mean by this is that the difference between a 3-1 series hole and a series deadlocked at two couldn't be more profound, couldn't be more glaring for a team. You win game four and you're heading into Vancouver with the tables turned, the Canucks facing a must-win in their own barn with the immense pressure of that rabid fanbase and media seeping under the wooden doors and strangling the life out of every animate and inanimate object in that locker room. And in your back pocket you have that game six in San Jose, a place where you know the fans are going to be so loud they will be blowing the roof into orbit from the drop of the puck.

But as this organization has a tendency to do, they're taking the most painful route possible in order to get there. As Han Solo once said, "Never tell me the odds! I'm a Sharks fan, they would have killed me by now."

I know this is old hat, but those five missed power play attempts are something that carry over into tonight. That's the monkey on their back right now. Although history will show that the parade to the penalty box in the second period that resulted in three goals was their eventual downfall, the struggles of the power play is where that game was lost.

San Jose doesn't have to score on one of their first two man advantages tonight in order to win. They just need to score more goals*. But capitalizing on the man advantage early on would work wonders in getting their legs underneath them, inject the life that they'll need on the road, and put them in a much more fortuitous situation to achieve victory. It's probably the biggest key for tonight, especially with even strength scoring struggling as it has throughout this series.

*This sentence brought to you by John Madden.

San Jose shot themselves in the foot on Sunday. Shotgun right to the skates. They're a wounded animal right now, caught in a trap that they themselves set.

That six game losing streak in the middle of January parallels the struggles they are going through right now. It's disheartening that those traits have resurfaced at this time of year of course, something I'm sure Todd McLellan and his coaching staff are none too pleased to see. Adversity loses its power when it's self-inflicted. It becomes easy to think about what could have been instead of what must be done.

The thing is, that six-game losing streak mentality is what arguably got San Jose here in the first place-- if they don't hit rock bottom in January who knows where they end up. In some grand and optimistic way, seeing those traits now is probably the only positive this team can take out of a 3-1 series deficit against the Presidents' Trophy winners. It provides a blueprint for where they need to go from here, a map for these tumultuous seas they have traveled once before with weary hearts and minds.

Tonight is the toughest game San Jose will play this series. Elimination game against the best team in the NHL, a team that is playing in their own barn one stride from playing for a Stanley Cup. Doesn't get any bigger than that. A win and things begin to get a little easier, shifts seem a little shorter. A win gets them back to HP Pavilion with a chance to turn the tides.

We've heard all year about the adversity this team has overcome, watched them struggle and eventually bloom before our very eyes. That adversity made them the team they are today.

Tonight is the night we see what it all means when it really counts.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-1. Goals by Setoguchi, McGinn, Boyle, and Marleau. Joe Thornton has a pair of power play assists.