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For Sharks, it's win three straight or go home

by Eric Gilmore /
SAN JOSE, Calif. – After the Sharks suffered a 7-3 road loss Wednesday to Vancouver, falling into an 0-2 hole in the Western Conference Finals, coach Todd McLellan flatly said it was far too early to panic.

"We're going home," McLellan said. "A wise man once told me you're never really in trouble till you lose a game at home."

No one, wise or not, has to tell McLellan and the Sharks how much trouble they're in now after their 4-2 loss to Vancouver in Game 4 on home ice Sunday at HP Pavilion.

The Sharks trail the Canucks 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 set for Tuesday night in Vancouver.

"It's a test," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. "We haven't been in these situations this year obviously for the playoffs. We've held control of the series for the most part, the (first) two series. It's going to be a test. We've seen Tampa, who could possibly march into the finals, and you look at their first series and they looked like they were getting dominated by Pittsburgh. They got it together and they won in Pittsburg and then came back home and you see what happened.

"We have to win a game on the road. We've got to strap up here and kind of do what L.A. did to us the first round. They played two great games in here and were just really sound positionally. That's what we need the next game. Five-on-five, we obviously built some momentum here at home. We were a lot better than we were in Vancouver."

The Sharks' challenge now is to beat the Canucks three straight times or go home. During the regular season, their only win over Vancouver in four tries came in a shootout at Rogers Arena. McLellan has often said his team plays its best hockey when it's uncomfortable, and this serves as the ultimate test of his theory.

"Their backs are against the wall as close as they can be," McLellan said. "We kind of laid it on the line in the third period tonight, that third phase, if you will, that's what we'll be looking to do in Vancouver. We know we've got a tough task ahead of us.  Vancouver knows, we know, Detroit knows, Chicago knows that anything can happen."

In the conference semifinals, Detroit fell behind San Jose 3-0 and came back to force a Game 7. In the quarterfinals, Chicago lost the first three games against Vancouver but forced a Game 7. As inspiring as those comebacks are, the reality is that both the Red Wings and Blackhawks lost those series-deciding games.

"We've been a resilient team all year," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "I'm sure we still have some confidence in this room. I'm confident we can go in and win a game there. That's got to be our mindset going forward now. Tough loss, but we're still in this series. You've got to win four to move on. So we're going to go there to win."

As tough as Sunday's loss was, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said he hasn't lost hope.

"This team is definitely capable of winning three games, but right now we've got to worry about winning one," Murray said. "We've got to be sharper in our execution and tighten up. Definitely take less penalties. It's something we addressed before the game but we did it again to ourselves. Yeah, get out there and compete."

The Sharks were a disaster on the power play and penalty kill in Game 4. They went 0-for-5 on the power play, four of those chances coming in the first period and one to open the second. They allowed three Vancouver power-play goals in the second, each one with the Canucks enjoying a two-man edge thanks to a flurry of Sharks penalties.

According to Clowe, the Sharks have to get their heads straight before Game 5 after making too many mental errors Sunday.

"This time of the year you hear everybody talk about this guy is banged up and this guy is sore and they go through so much, but you know what? Right here mentally is where teams win or lose this time of year," Clowe said. "I don't think it's physically. Everyone's in a battle. For some reason we could kick ourselves in the rear end all the time it seems like lately.

"I don't think that we're not mentally strong enough, it just seems like at times the plays we make are putting ourselves in holes – mental mistakes. That doesn't mean we're not mentally strong enough to play at this time of the year. It just means we have to be smarter. You can't put yourself in that type of hole, 5-on-3."

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