Programming note: Sharks-Kings Game 7 coverage gets underway today at 5:30 p.m with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California; No TV? Watch the LIVE STREAM of Game 7 on CSNCalifornia.com at 6 p.m.
LOS ANGELES – For the San Jose Sharks, it’s no coincidence that their worst game of the postseason came when they got away from what’s become a key to their success – staying loose.
Head coach Todd McLellan, who spoke after the Sharks’ morning skate, already sensed a positive vibe around his club as it prepares for the do-or-die Game 7 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
“They’re a loose group, should be ready to play. They’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of them,” he said.
The coach didn’t waste any time after the Sharks’ 2-1 win in Game 6 in suggesting that the pressure will be squarely on the shoulder pads of the home team in Game 7. Conversely, the Sharks are already playing with house money, which may be a factor in their jovial demeanor.
That doesn’t guarantee a win, of course.
“I don’t think we feel a lot of pressure,” McLellan said. “I think our team was a little more tense and pressured before Game 5, but in saying that, that doesn’t let our group off the hook. We can’t just go out there and be loosesy-goosey and turn pucks over and allow them to play their game. We have to play a well-disciplined, hard, smart game. We have the Stanley Cup champs in Game 7 in their building. Everybody’s watching. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Dan Boyle suggested there is a different feel to the Sharks this season.
“For many years we’ve been picked, and people get disappointed year in and year out. I think this year it’s been the other way around,” he said. “We weren’t picked to win the first series (against Vancouver), we weren’t picked to win this one. A little bit of a different situation for us. Whether that’s good or bad, we’ll see. Not a lot of people thought we’d be here at this point.”
The last time the Sharks were at Staples Center, for that aforementioned Game 5, San Jose dropped a 3-0 decision to the Kings and was never really in the game. Los Angeles was the much more physical and better team from the outset. Led by defenseman Matt Greene, the Kings laid 24 hits on San Jose skaters in the first 20 minutes, and had a 51-24 advantage by the end of the night.
It’s up to San Jose to make sure there isn’t a repeat performance, as it attempts to make its third appearance in four years in the NHL’s final four.
“The looseness, the execution, the speed,” McLellan said of what needs to change from that loss. “Those are probably the three most important things. They energy and the passion and the drive will be there. I don’t know where the results will go at the end of the night, but I hope the win goes in our bank account rather than theirs. All that stuff will be there for both teams. It will come down to executing, being quicker, and forcing the other team to err.”
Joe Pavelski said: “We’re going to come with a lot more energy, be a lot cleaner. But, so are they. They’re a good team, and it will be a good competitive battle.”
The Sharks expect the same game the Kings threw at them in Game 5, and realize they’ll have to handle it better to have a chance.
Logan Couture said: “It’s going to be an interesting start to the game. I’m sure there’s going to be nerves involved on both sides. Come out with some energy and play in their end, that’s what we want to do. Get some shots on their goaltender right away, and go from there.
“We didn’t play very well in Game 5, we know that. We’ve been pretty good in these playoffs so far, but that game definitely wasn’t one we wanted to play. We’ll respond tonight.”
Much has been made of the Sharks being the more experienced club in a series-deciding game. San Jose is expected to ice the same lineup it did in Game 6, and those players have a collective 31 games experience in this situation.
That means little, according to McLellan: “This is about 2013, and the Kings and the Sharks, and who’s involved in the game.”
For one of them, it will be their last.
“We’re really enjoying this ride that we’ve had,” Joe Thornton said. “We just want to continue it after tonight.”