SAN JOSE –- It didn’t take very long for the Sharks to start turning their focus towards Wednesday's Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
Shortly after Game 5, a 6-3 San Jose win in St. Louis on Monday, Logan Couture said: “Right now just happy that we won, but after we score that second empty netter, [by Joel Ward], it was, ‘alright, let’s get ready for Game 6.’ We know it’s going to be a battle. We’re excited to see our fans, and hopefully play well again.”
The Sharks know the series is far from over against a St. Louis team that outclassed them the last time they met at SAP Center in Game 4. The Blues won that one, 6-3, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. St. Louis jumped out to a 4-0 lead and was never really threatened.
They can also simply refer back to the second round as a reminder. In Nashville, with a chance to close out the Predators and avoid a Game 7, they were beaten 4-3 in another meeting that wasn’t as close as the score.
“We’ve got a lot of work still to do,” Joe Thornton said Monday night. ”We’re going to enjoy this for a little bit, but we know we’ve still got a lot of work to do.’’
Patrick Marleau said: “It's a good position to be in, obviously winning Game 5 and coming home having a chance to close out the series. There's still a lot of work to go into getting that deciding game.”
What shouldn’t be much of a concern for the Sharks at this point, though, is the team’s ability to remain on an even keel. While previous iterations of San Jose’s hockey teams have tended to fade late in playoff series, if not outright choke, this version has shown a distinct ability to rise to the occasion when the temperature gets turned up.
While that doesn’t guarantee they’ll win one of the next two games against St. Louis, the impending sense doom that has followed the Sharks for the past decade has seemingly vanished.
“There's a calmness that goes across the group,” Paul Martin said. “We're not too uptight. I think we play better hockey when we're just playing and making sure that guys are not thinking the game as much [and] just relying on their instincts, and playing the game. I think a lot of guys go out and do that.
“It starts with our leaders. When they play that way, it trickles down to everybody else.”
Coach Pete DeBoer has seen the Sharks’ leaders come through at the most important times.
“Those guys have cranked all their games up, every one of those guys, to another level,” DeBoer said.
No one, though, has cranked it up more than Joe Pavelski.
The captain is leading the NHL with 12 goals, which would put him on pace for 57 in a full, 82-game season. After leading the league in game-winning goals in the regular season, Pavelski is again atop the leaderboard in that category with four, including on Monday.
“He's been huge,” Marleau said. “He's doing all the little things. You guys look at goal scoring and the points, but for us all the time he does all those little things – blocks shots, helps out, wins battles.”
He’s getting it done on the ice, while the leadership restructuring off the ice also seems to be paying dividends.
“Just like the rest of our group, he's honest, and he loves the game,” DeBoer said. “They enjoy being around each other. They enjoy being around the rink. They like to practice. They love to compete and play.”
They’d love nothing more than to keep playing one more round. If they prevail on Wednesday, they’ll earn that opportunity.
“It's such a hard trophy to win, it's such a hard league to advance, even as far as we are right now,” DeBoer said. “History's shown that. It's rare air you're breathing.
“I think these guys more than anybody recognize that, and they want to take advantage of that.”