SAN JOSE – In the record book, it will go down as the first playoff series sweep in Sharks franchise history.
In reality, except for one brief spurt in the third period of Game 3, the Sharks and Canucks were much more evenly matched than the four-games-to-none result that allowed the Sharks to become the first NHL team to advance past the first round this year.
San Jose actually trailed in three of the four games, yet managed to come from behind each and every time, including Tuesday’s thrilling Game 4 overtime win. And, really, that resiliency and resolve may say more about the way the Sharks are playing than their unblemished record.
“We battle, man,” said Logan Couture, who is tied with Joe Pavelski and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the NHL league lead with eight playoff points.
“Since we went on that hot streak there (in late March) and added some guys, we never give up. That’s one thing about this team that we do really, really well. We don’t sink down on our bench; we keep going forward. That has a lot to do with our veterans, and has a lot to do with the experience that most guys in this room have.”
Todd McLellan senses a distinctive atmosphere around his club than some of the previous versions, perhaps a result of lower expectations following a disappointing season in 2011-12 and a middling regular season for the first two months this year.
“In the past you kind of felt the pressure, and this year we didn’t feel that way, McLellan said. “We’re a loose group, playing free. Not a lot of expectations that are put on us from the outside that have been there in the past. Just a different group of characters that came through.”
“We’re put together a little bit different. In the past, we had maybe some marquee names we were counting on, and now we have some household names. Those types of players have elevated their play. I think we’re more of a team now maybe than we’ve been in the past. I keep telling them everybody’s important, because everybody is. That’s our mantra going forward.”
A lights-out power play helps, too. The Sharks scored three power play goals for the second straight game in Tuesday night’s series-clinching win, and finished 7-for-28 over the short series.
Trailing 3-2 in the third, Tommy Wingels drew a late cross-checking penalty to series villain Kevin Bieksa, allowing the Sharks to tie the game on Pavelski’s second goal of the night at 15:33. Overtime followed.
Wingels was on the receiving end of a dubious boarding call at 13:03 of the fourth period, too, going hard into the boards after a hit from Daniel Sedin that referee Kelly Sutherland deemed boarding.
Patrick Marleau’s fourth marker in as many games at 13:18 of overtime capped the comeback.
Wingels’ play was a good example of McLellan’s “everybody’s important” mantra.
“That’s just what he does,” Couture said of Wingels. “Tommy is big for us, and an important piece of our puzzle. He gets in on forechecks, finishes checks, gets under the other team’s skin. They went after him tonight, and took some undisciplined penalties.”
Joe Thornton said: “He was working so hard and just paying the price for us tonight.”
A shot on net from Thornton that goalie Cory Schneider was unable to corral led to the winning goal, as Marleau raced in to swipe home the loose puck.
“I was kind of yelling for [Joe] to shoot it, and I don’t know if he heard me. It was a great play by him just getting it at the net,” Marleau said. “It was laying there at the side of the net, and I was able to bat it home.”
Thornton said: “I just shot, and good thing Patty has wheels to finish it off. It was a good decision.”
The win allows the Sharks to get some rest after an exhausting regular season that essentially featured a game every other night. San Jose will have at least five days to rest, and maybe more, before they have dates and an opponent for the second round.
That’s a direct contrast to the last time they were up in a series three-games-to-none in 2011, when the Detroit Red Wings battled back to force a Game 7. San Jose went on to lose to the Canucks in the Western Conference final.
“It’s important,” McLellan said. “Going back and looking at experience, the seven games against Detroit after being up three-nothing didn’t help us. Bumps and bruises add up, fatigue, travel. Just stress alone.”
The Sharks can still technically play the Blackhawks, Blues, Kings or Red Wings in the second round. But no matter the opponent, the Sharks will continue to battle, if the first round is any indication.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is or what time of game it’s at, we just keep plugging away,” Thornton said. “We just have so much fun together, and we’re really enjoying it. You just want to keep it going as long as you can.”