I’m doing an abbreviated teal Thursday this week, and I’m posting a day early for a number of reasons, mainly because I want it to go up before game four. It is abbreviated for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I really don’t feel like re-living games 1-3 of the Dallas series. I’ll go through a quick recap of the series in one section (not game by game as I have been doing), give a few thoughts on what needs to happen, and end it with a quick story.
Although I doubt anyone relies exclusively on this blog for updates on the Sharks, in case anyone does, as you may have been able to gather from the tone, things are looking grim in San Jose. The Sharks dropped game 3 in overtime last night, falling in a 3-0 hole to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. The Sharks have not played horribly, and with just a few bounces could have won any of the three games. Games one and three went to overtime, and the Sharks took a 2-1 lead into the third period of game 2. Having been able to watch games one and two, I felt confident, even down 2-0 in the series. The Sharks had outplayed the Stars badly for 40 minutes in game 2, but a dismal third period effort lead to a 4 goal period for the Stars, and a 5-2 loss. Game one was similarly frustrating, as the Sharks seemed to have the upper edge, even if they didn’t lead on the scoreboard, but ended up falling in overtime.
One theme has been clear over the first three games of this series, and that is this; the Sharks lack a killer instinct. It could easily be argued that the Sharks are only three timely goals away from being up 3-0, rather than down 3-0. In games one and 3, obviously OT winners would have done the trick, but particularly in game one, if the Sharks had scored one more in a first period that they dominated, the Stars likely would not have been able to respond. In game 2, the Sharks dominated the first two periods, but had only a 2-1 lead to show for it. An insurance tally late in the second would have allowed the Sharks to go into the dump and protect game they play so well, but instead a single bounce tied the game early in the third. Three times, the Sharks have been controlling the play, and had a chance to bury the Stars. Three times, they have been unable to.
The second thing I want to touch on is something that I take no pleasure in doing. I am a Ron Wilson fan, and was never comfortable with the notion that his job should have been in jeopardy following last year’s playoff exit. I sincerely wish that I could support the way that he has handled this series, mainly because he has (I believe) yet to make a serious error as head coach of the Sharks, yet I cannot. First of all, as I wrote in the “Just a Thought” column, Jeremy Roenick has absolutely no business on the first powerplay unit, and having him there cost the Sharks game one. In the first period, Patrick Marleau made a phenomenal pass to Roenick in front of the net. Roenick re-directed the puck, but couldn’t bury it. Did Turco make a phenomenal save? Yes. Would the majority NHL goal scorers have made the same play? Probably. Can I even blame JR? Probably not, but Jonathan Cheechoo would have scored. He would have put that pass home ten times out of ten, but he was sitting on the bench. This was the most glaring and costly, but not the only instance of the Sharks PP being hurt by not having #14 on the first unit, and that one falls squarely on Ron’s shoulders.
The second problem I have with what Ron has done came in game three. Down 2-0, Wilson was looking to wake his team up, which he should have been, except for two things. First of all, the Sharks hadn’t lost 3 games in a row since mid February. This team had proven that it doesn’t need wake up calls to get back on track. On top of that, the Sharks had outplayed Dallas for all but the last twenty minutes of the first two games. Unfortunately, Ron panicked, and stuck Alexi “the pylon” Seminov on the blue line. Unless it comes out that Carl was injured, this is inexplicable. Carl had been playing well since being put back into the lineup, and Seminov has consistently proven himself incapable. Sure enough, Seminov took a key penalty that lead to the tying goal. Inserting Plihal for Rissmiller is somewhat less egregious, but Plihal appears unprepared for playoff hockey, and Grier’s game suffered considerably without Rissmiller in the lineup. Both of these moves reeked of desperation from a coach who did not need to be desperate quite yet.
I have two more quick thoughts before I wrap it up. First of all, Joe Thornton was non-existent like never before on Tuesday night. Listening to the game on the radio, I barely heard his name mentioned the entire night. Needless to say, Thornton is probably the best player in the NHL when he is on, and the Sharks need him to be on to climb out of this hole. Lastly, there are plenty of “what ifs” that are relevant to the first few games of this series. I’m going to refrain from touching on those, until the time that they become necessary to address. Here’s hoping that time is never.
I want to finish with a story. It has nothing to do with the Sharks, but it seems relevant to the present situation. In October of 2004, the morning after the Sox had dropped game 3 of the ALCS 19-8 to fall into a 3-0 hole to the hated Yankees, I passed my friend Taylor Donner on the boardwalk. Still disappointed from the night before, and sure that the series was over, all I could do was shake my head, giving a feeble “It doesn’t look good.”
After pausing, as if to think of something else to say, all Taylor could muster was a “no.”
A few seconds later though, he finally said “but I mean, if we can win tonight, we have Pedro going tomorrow.”
“And Shilling after that in game six.” I replied, still morbidly, but beginning to cheer up.
“And then game seven, anything can happen there, all we have to do is win tonight”
“You never know.” Was all I could say, as if the notion that hope still existed was new to me, something I wasn’t quite ready to embrace.
“You never know.” He echoed, and we went our separate ways.
Sure enough, that night Dave Roberts stole second off of Rivera and the rest, as they say, was history. I don’t know if this story really has a point, except that of all the memories from the 2004 Red Sox Championship, this seemingly mundane conversation will always be one of my most vivid. It serves as a reminder that it really never is over, that it is never better just to give up hope. So when the puck deflected past Nabokov and the Sharks went down 3-0, I thought of Taylor, and I thought of 2004. Because if we win tomorrow, we go back to San Jose, and by game six we will be rolling, and anything can happen in game seven, all we have to do is win tomorrow. Because you never know.