-- Judging by the way a number of players were kicking around a soccer ball in the hallway outside the dressing room and the techno music blaring inside of it, the San Jose Sharks
appeared to be a changed team Wednesday.
Maybe they're not willing to admit it, but the top-seeded Sharks alleviated some pressure on themselves with a critical 4-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks
in Game 3 Tuesday night to avoid falling in a deeper hole in their Western Conference Quarterfinal.
"We could be waking up this morning being down 3-0," San Jose captain Patrick Marleau
said. "Now it's 2-1. Still, we've got a big hill to climb. But it's obviously better to win than lose."
Game 4 is set at Honda Center on Thursday night (10:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). The Sharks, who had the best record in the NHL during the regular season, found their game on the road after dropping the first two before disappointed sellout crowds in San Jose.
Not only did the Sharks set a physical tone early on, they also got their potent power play untracked, thanks to the efforts of defensemen Dan Boyle
and Rob Blake
Blake said the Sharks played with more desperation in Game 3.
"You realize it more when you're down 0-2 and you come to somebody else's building," he said. "The chance of going down three. [Only] two teams have come back from that so you don't want to be in that position."
Eager to erase the stigma of coming up short in the playoffs with other strong regular-season teams, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson acted boldly in a 24-hour span in July to upgrade his blue line.
Mirroring what Anaheim did when it signed Scott Niedermayer
and traded for Chris Pronger
in consecutive summers to serve as defense anchors, Wilson signed Blake to a one-year free-agent contract and then sent away two young blueliners to get Boyle from Tampa Bay.
The two biggest acquisitions by the Sharks over the summer continue to pay dividends. Boyle scored twice in Game 3 and Blake got the game's first goal and set up Patrick Marleau
's game-winning midway through the third period.
The addition of Boyle (16 goals, 41 assists) and Blake (10 goals, 35 assists) was a major factor as the Sharks led the NHL in scoring from the blue line.
"Taking advantage of what was there," Sharks coach Todd McLellan
said in discussing what Blake and Boyle did in Game 3. "We've never put any brakes on any of our defensemen joining the rush. In fact, we've encouraged them from day one."
Blake, 39, is enjoying a supporting role that he said is very similar to the one he played after he joined Colorado at the 2001 trade deadline -- in time to win a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche.
Before free agency opened July 1, the former Norris Trophy winner had envisioned finishing his long career with the Los Angeles Kings
, the team he spent 13 seasons with over two stints. But he and the team couldn't agree on how Blake fit in the Kings' rebuilding plans.
"Absolutely I thought that was going to happen," said Blake, talking about finishing his career in L.A. "But as it played out July 1, it wasn't available. I had to look outside if it didn't happen."
Tired of sitting out the postseason, Blake found the right situation with San Jose. Along with Boyle, the Sharks looked at him as one of the pieces to put them over the top.
"That's why we play," Blake said. "Sometimes you get going and you almost forget what that feel like. But it's nice to be back in that element."
Boyle did what he does best. He jumped up into the play on both of his goals, converting a pass from Joe Thornton
for the Sharks' first power-play goal of the series and then banging a loose puck past Jonas Hiller
early in the second period for a 3-2 lead.
"You obviously have to be aware of Boyle when he's out there," Niedermayer said. "There's probably not many guys that do it more than he does. Again, last night was probably he was up the ice a little more than the first two games. It's probably a conscious decision on his part as well."
"You realize it more when you're down 0-2 and you come to somebody else's building. The chance of going down three. [Only] two teams have come back from that so you don't want to be in that position."
-- Rob Blake
The first all-California series in 40 years has been physical without being nasty. But the intensity between the Pacific Division rivals ratcheted up several levels in Game 3.
In particular, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray
has had several big hits against the Ducks' skilled players. Teemu Selanne
and Bobby Ryan
have often wound up in Murray's crosshairs.
Game 4 could be the most physical in the series, according to Anaheim winger George Parros
"It has to," said Parros, who responded by fighting Murray on Tuesday. "No matter who wins this next game, it's going to be do or die for both teams. That's just the natural tendency of the playoffs. Every game gets more and more important. It's bound to escalate."
In a series in which the home team has yet to win, the favored Sharks insist that the pressure is off them.
"We all know it's going to be a long series," Marleau said. "Each game is going to be tough. We've just got to get ourselves prepared for that."