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Sharks paying price for third-period struggles

by John Kreiser /
The San Jose Sharks were among the stingiest teams in the NHL during the third period during the regular season. Their last few playoff games, however, have been another story.

San Jose surrendered only 70 third-period goals in 82 regular-season games, fewer than all but eight teams, and allowed just six through its first 10 playoff games. However, beginning with a disastrous third period in Game 5 against Detroit, when the Wings scored three times to rally for a 4-3 win, the Sharks have been a sieve in the final 20 minutes of games.

In their last five third periods, the Sharks have been shredded for 13 goals -- more than any other team has allowed in all of its third periods combined. San Jose's total of 19 third-period goals allowed is the most that any team has allowed in any period.

The Sharks have lost two of the six games in which they've led after two periods -- there have been only eight such games in the playoffs, and only one other (Game 3 of the Washington-Tampa Bay series) that did not go to overtime.

San Jose hasn't exactly been gangbusters in the first period, either. The Sharks have been outscored 15-10 in the first period of their 15 games, though they've scored the first goal in 10 of the 15 games. However, they've turned those 10 early leads into only six wins -- and have lost both games to Vancouver in the Western Conference Finals despite getting the first goal.

So how have the Sharks gotten as far as they have? The biggest reason is their success in overtime. San Jose is 5-0 in games that have gone past regulation. They're the first team to win as many as five overtime playoff games since Buffalo went 5-1 in 2006. The last team to win more than five overtime games in one playoff season was the 2002 Carolina Hurricanes, who made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time largely by going 7-1 in overtime.

Bad omen -- The Sharks have been outscored 6-1 in the third period in losing Games 1 and 2 to Vancouver, extending their losing streak in conference final games to eight. They enter Friday's game in San Jose (9 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS) looking for their first home win ever in a conference final game -- they went 0-3 in 2004 and dropped Games 1 and 2 to Chicago last year.

Dropping the first two games isn't a harbinger of great things for San Jose. The Sharks are 0-8 all-time when losing Games 1 and 2, including 0-3 in conference finals.

Still, the Sharks may be able to take some inspiration from the Boston Bruins, who trailed 2-0 in their opening-round series against Montreal but rallied to win -- the first time they'd rallied like that in 27 tries in franchise history. The Bruins also ended a nine-game losing streak in the conference finals by beating Tampa Bay in Game 2 -- and followed that by winning Game 3

Road warriors -- 2011 continues to be a great spring for road teams.

Through 75 games in this year's playoffs, the visiting team has won 39 times, including Thursday's 2-0 victory by Boston at Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

That result wasn't surprising -- both teams in the East have better records on the road than at home during the playoffs; Boston is 5-3 at home and 5-1 away from TD Garden, while Tampa Bay has split its six home games and is 6-2 on the road.

In the West, Vancouver has a .667 winning percentage at home (6-3) and on the road (4-2). Only San Jose has been markedly better at home -- the Sharks are 4-3 at HP Pavilion and 4-4 away from Northern California, including four consecutive losses.

Fast starters -- It's always easier to play from in front, whether in games or in series, as the Vancouver Canucks have illustrated. Vancouver's 3-2 win against the Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was their seventh series-opening win in a row. It's the second-longest streak of its kind in the last 16 years; only Detroit's run of nine in a row from 2007-09 is longer.

Part of the reason for the Canucks' success has been the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo. He's been in goal for all three Game 1 wins this season, and his .889 winning percentage (8-1) is the best in Game 1s in NHL history.

Kid stuff -- Considering Tyler Seguin spent the first two rounds of the playoffs watching his Boston Bruins teammates beat Montreal and Philadelphia, his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals would have to rate as one of the most stunning surprises in years.

Seguin, 19 years and 103 days old last Saturday, became the fifth-youngest player since 1968 to get a goal in the conference finals. But that was just a warm-up for Game 2.

Seguin, the second pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, had 2 goals and 2 assists in the second period of the Bruins' 6-5 win. He became the 14th player (Mario Lemieux did it twice), the second rookie and first teenager to get four points in one period. No teen since Vancouver's Trevor Linden 22 years ago had had four points in a game, let alone a period.

Not bad for someone who put up just 11 goals and 22 points while being broken in slowly during his rookie season.
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