For the Dallas Stars, a win would move them one step closer to a Stanley Cup title. For the San Jose Sharks, a loss could mark the beginning of the end.
The Stars go for the sweep of their Western Conference semifinal series Wednesday when they host the Sharks in Game 4 as the teams play on consecutive nights.
After winning the first two games at San Jose - the second straight series Dallas jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the road - the Stars avoided the home-ice woes that plagued the Sharks and posted a 2-1 overtime victory on Tuesday. Defenseman Sergei Zubov tied the game at 1 early in the third period on a 5-on-3 power play, and fellow blue liner Mattias Norstrom scored 4:37 into the extra period for Dallas, which took a commanding 3-0 series lead.
"I tried to get it on net, it went off a stick. Fortunately, it went in," said Norstrom, who has 18 goals in 903 career regular-season games, but two in his last five playoff games after failing to score in his first 42.
The win left the Stars on the cusp of reaching the conference finals for the first time since 2000, when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in defense of their 1999 title before losing to New Jersey in seven games. Dallas has not swept a playoff series since rolling past Edmonton in the first round in 1999 en route to the Stanley Cup.
More importantly, the Stars look to have the same loose style that has carried them to a 7-2 mark this postseason heading into this quick turnaround.
"There's a lot of momentum right now," Stars veteran center Mike Modano said. "It'll be a fun night, an elimination game."
Perhaps overly excited about being in front of the home fans, the Stars took four penalties in the first 16:19, but successfully killed off a two-minute 5-on-3 disadvantage. Dallas did not take another penalty after the minors to Trevor Daley and Steve Ott, and limited the Sharks to 14 shots over the final two periods of regulation and overtime.
Additionally, the Stars scored a power-play goal for the seventh time in nine playoff games and are now 13-for-49 (26.5 percent) with the man advantage.
San Jose now begins its bid to become just the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit, accomplished only by the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals and by the 1975 New York Islanders in the quarterfinals. But the pressure of trying to win a series in the face of nearly insurmountable odds is compounded by the belief that this may have been the best chance for the Sharks to put aside their past failures of underachieving in the postseason.
Yet goaltender Evgeni Nabokov insists no one on the Sharks is ready to give up.
"There's no quit in this room. All the games have been pretty close," said Nabokov, who had 27 saves Tuesday. "It's been little bounces here and there. ... We have to regroup and forget these games."
Ron Wilson's team is on the verge of its third consecutive second-round exit, and despite finishing either first or second in the Pacific Division each of the past four seasons, the Sharks have no conference titles to show for it. A sweep may put Wilson's job in jeopardy - along with general manager Doug Wilson - and could potentially lead to a personnel housecleaning by the Sharks.
They have suffered just one sweep in franchise history, done by Detroit in the 1995 conference semifinals.
Should the Sharks stave off elimination, the series will return to San Jose for Game 5 on Friday.