|San Jose defenseman Brian Campbell has averaged the most on-ice minutes for the Sharks
through two games of their quarterfinal series
against Dion Phaneuf and the Calgary Flames.
Brian Campbell video highlights
The San Jose defenseman skates like Jackie Robinson tried to steal home plate -- fast and with a purpose.
The game Campbell plays is called puck possession, and there aren't many who do it better.
Combining ridiculous speed, his deft touch and a simple yearning for the puck on his stick at all times, Campbell has given the Sharks an identity since moving from chilly Western New York to the pretty Silicon Valley on trade-deadline day. This identity has turned the Sharks into the hot pick to come out of the Western Conference.
San Jose closed the regular season 18-2-2 and is locked in a 1-1 quarterfinal-round series against the Calgary Flames thanks to Thursday's night's 2-0 victory in Game 2. The series moves to Calgary for Sunday's Game 3.
"He obviously loves to have the puck, and it's just kind of changed our game," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "A little less dump-and-chase and forecheck, and more controlled attack through the neutral zone. We'll still use our size up front to forecheck, but we have to dump the puck less. You've seen a difference."
Campbell had an assist and played more than 27 minutes in Game 1, a 3-2 loss. He drew slightly more than 28 minutes of ice time in Game 2. His 27:36 average time on ice through the first two games is 5:10 more than the next Sharks player, Joe Thornton.
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This ability to be the quarterback all over the ice is exactly why Sharks GM Doug Wilson gave up budding prospect Steve Bernier in exchange for Campbell on Feb. 26. Speedy puck movers like Campbell are at a premium these days, and Western teams already had to contend with two of the best ever in Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer.
Campbell is a younger version of those players.
"Ever since we got 'Soupy' Campbell he has changed the makeup of our hockey club, he changed the way we think offensively," Sharks veteran forward Jeremy Roenick said. "We now have a defense that can carry the puck coast to coast. He's our Niedermayer, our Lidstrom. It has made worlds of difference for our confidence. We just seem to be rolling, and with puck possession we have played really strong defensively."
Ron Wilson, the coach, is quick to point out that since Campbell got to San Jose, the team's average hits per game is down.
"Why would that be? Because we have the puck all the time," the coach said.
Campbell, normally reserved when it comes to talking about himself and his impact on the team, said he has had teammates and coaches come up to him and comment on the difference he's made for the Sharks since the trade.
"I have had an assistant coach come up to me and say, 'You've been awesome, but it's not what you have done personally, but more to the other guys,' " Campbell said. “It makes you feel good with what you're trying to do."
The Sharks appear to have caught lightning in a bottle with Campbell, but they felt that way last year, too, after GM Doug Wilson traded for Bill Guerin at the deadline.
Guerin had nine points in 16 games and the Sharks went 13-2-4 after the deadline to secure the fifth seed. However, for the second-straight season, the Sharks were wiped out of a Western Conference Semifinal in six games.
That's why Ron Wilson is hesitant to assess Campbell's true value right now.
"We won't know until we see how far we've gone in the playoffs," he said. "Obviously it's worked up to this point."
It has because Campbell has excelled with this unexpected opportunity.
Prior to the trade deadline, he was in Buffalo quarterbacking a team trying to stay above water in the playoff race while combating daily questions about his own expiring contract. Since the trade deadline, he's been enjoying beautiful weather in a quiet area, all the while winning nearly every single game he's played.
Campbell's days are consumed with playing hockey -- not hockey business -- and he's having a blast.
"It's an opportunity to win, that's the big thing," Campbell said. "The organization really wants to win here. They feel a lot of joy over that. It's an opportunity that I wouldn't have had this year. You don't get too many opportunities over the years, so I feel I need to take advantage of it."
In fact, Campbell is so confident he believes it would be a disappointment if the Sharks don't at least advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
"That's what this team is set up to do," he said. "That's what our mindset was in Buffalo the previous two years. It's nice to come into an area like this where that's the goal and that's what this team needs to do."
As long as the puck stays on Campbell's stick, the Sharks may just do it.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com