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Conference Final

DeBoer excels for Sharks adjusting to opponents in playoffs

Coach will continue 'counterpunching' in Game 2 of Western Final against Blues

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- Four years ago, the San Jose Sharks were looking for a new coach. Amid the process, general manager Doug Wilson reached out to his counterpart with the NBA's Golden State Warriors, Bob Myers, who had hired Steve Kerr the year before.

It helped Wilson choose Peter DeBoer.

"I spent a lot of time with Bob on researching the ingredients he was looking for in a coach," Wilson said. "Pete DeBoer has a lot of similar ingredients -- a lot. Inclusive. Bright. Can deliver a message succinctly in less than 30 words."

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Blues series coverage]

 

Kerr has won 17 of 18 playoff rounds with Golden State. The time he lost, the Warriors went to Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers. He has won three championships and is halfway to a fourth now, with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals again.

DeBoer does not compare. But this is a different team in a different sport and a different league, and consider this:

He has won six of nine Stanley Cup Playoff rounds with San Jose and nine of 13 rounds in his NHL career. He has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, with the New Jersey Devils in 2012 and the Sharks in 2016, and he is in his third conference final in five playoff appearances now, with the Sharks in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks lead the best-of-7 series 1-0 entering Game 2 at San Jose on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Video: STL@SJS, Gm1: Couture scores on empty net for second

With a 45-34 record, DeBoer's playoff winning percentage is .570. That's ninth in NHL history among those who have coached at least 48 games. The closest comparison? Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is 41-31 for a .569 winning percentage. Of course, Sullivan has won the Cup twice. DeBoer is still trying to win it for the first time.

"I think he's one of the best coaches in the League," Wilson said. "It's the respect that he has, the clarity in his message, his open-mindedness to get the best out of players. I think [the coaches have] done a tremendous job. Ultimately, players know if you believe in them or not, if you're giving them the right directions and instructions, and Pete and his staff have it in spades."

A lot depends on things outside of a coach's control, from personnel to injuries to breaks.

DeBoer missed the playoffs in five of his first six NHL seasons -- three with the Florida Panthers from 2008-11 and three with New Jersey from 2011-14. The Devils fired him after 36 games in 2014-15.

He's 4-0 in Game 7 in his career. Lose a couple coin flips, and it looks different. The Sharks were down 3-1 in the series and 3-0 in the third period of Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights. If goalie Martin Jones doesn't find his game, if the Sharks don't score four goals during a major penalty, he's 4-4 in playoff rounds in San Jose and 7-5 in his career.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm7: Goodrow nets series-winner in OT

That said, it seems when DeBoer has a team good enough to make the playoffs, he excels when focusing on the same team game after game, making adjustments, hammering home details.

"Regular-season play, you're flying in somewhere," DeBoer said. "Probably 90 percent of your preparation is on your own team, and probably 10 percent is on some of the little things the other team's doing. When you get into the playoffs, you really get to do a deep dive into the strengths and weaknesses and how you think you can expose them.

"It's a different type of coaching, and I think if you ask any NHL coach, I think everybody enjoys that, dialing in on one opponent for two weeks and then, you know, counterpunching the changes they make. That's the competition. I think that's when you can really get excited about having an impact on the game. Not that you don't during the regular season. It's just different."

The Sharks will not get into strategy because they don't want to reveal secrets. But the numbers indicate adjustments. In the first round, Golden Knights forwards Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone combined for 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in Games 1-4 and three points (one goal, two assists) in Games 5-7. In the second round, Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon had five points (three goals, two assists) in Games 1-4 and none in Games 5-7.

"He doesn't panic," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "He delivers a good message to the group, a good game plan, and sticks with it. There are a few adjustments we make along the way if he sees something or if something's not working. But right from, I'd say, Game 1, he delivers us a good message and a good plan, and he's just always in control of the ship."

DeBoer delivered a message to the Sharks before the season and has reiterated it to them at least a couple of times since. There was a team that succeeded for a long time but never won a championship -- until it did, until everyone bought in and did all the little things, until everything finally came together. That team? The 2018 Stanley Cup champions, the Washington Capitals.

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