SAN JOSE, Calif. - In his first 18 NHL seasons, Jeremy Roenick would have celebrated a decisive playoff win in old-time hockey fashion by downing a few cold beers, or perhaps a good glass of wine.
After propelling the San Jose Sharks into the second round with a four-point performance in Game 7 against Calgary, Roenick was in high spirits, but not because of anything he was about to drink.
"I guess I've got to go have a soda water right now," he said with a smirk.
When Roenick postponed retirement for another Stanley Cup run, he also gave up alcohol for the year. Roenick doesn't have a drinking problem, yet the 38-year-old forward partly credits his teetotaling for his remarkable resurgence this season, capped by a spectacular Game 7 that sent the Sharks onward to face the Dallas Stars in the second round.
"I think that has a lot to do with it - clean living and making sure that my body is fresh, that there's no toxins in it," said Roenick, who had two goals and two assists. "A healthy mind will create a healthy body, and the San Jose Sharks have allowed me to have a healthy mind. I haven't felt this good in maybe 10 or 15 years, since I was a kid. I feel like I did when I played in Chicago, before Philly and Phoenix, way back when."
The Stars visit the Shark Tank for Game 1 on Friday night. The Pacific Division rivals split eight regular-season meetings and played a fight-filled finale just 2 1/2 weeks ago, highlighted by San Jose star Joe Thornton pounding on Dallas agitator Steve Ott.
Roenick is no stranger to scraps, but he didn't play in that game. The San Jose coaching staff strategically rested the nine-time all-star during the regular season, keeping Roenick fresh as he piled up 14 goals - including the 500th of his career - and 19 assists while adjusting seamlessly to a supporting role.
Ron Wilson's plan preserved Roenick in top form while also giving valuable playing time to rookie forwards Torrey Mitchell and Devin Setoguchi, who both contributed to the Sharks' opening-round victory.
"I have absolutely no problems with my body - no aches, no pains, whatever," Roenick said. "My wife gets mad at me. We're both the same age, both 38, and she has a really bad back and can't move too often. She's got a bad neck, bad back, disk problems, and I've played 20 years, scoring like I have, playing like I have, and I'm pain-free."
Roenick's heroics aside, the Sharks survived their seven-game struggle against the Flames with a team-wide resilience that contradicts the criticism levelled at them during second-round losses in each of the last two playoffs.
San Jose fell apart midway through both of those series after heartbreaking losses: the Detroit Red Wings' last-minute rally to win the series-tying Game 4 last season, and the Oilers' triple-overtime victory in Game 3 in 2006. The Sharks also got a reputation for wilting against physical play, symbolized by their tepid response to Raffi Torres' skull-rattling dirty hit on Milan Michalek in Game 2 against Edmonton.
The Sharks took plenty of knockdown punches against Calgary, but they got back up and kept swinging.
Defencemen Cory Sarich and Dion Phaneuf landed brutal hits on captain Patrick Marleau, and San Jose endured a soul-crushing Game 3 loss in which they blew a three-goal lead. The Sharks even flopped in a potential Game 6 clincher, yet they responded with probably their best game of the series Tuesday night.
"We've been coming up big in big games all season, and we showed it again tonight," said Marleau, whose bloody face in the Calgary newspapers incited his teammates before Game 4. "We've got to take that confidence and move on. Everybody playing together was the most important thing. It's going to be a long haul, but it's been fun."
The Sharks weren't without problems in the opening round. The NHL's best penalty-killing team in the regular season is the worst so far in the playoffs, while Michalek's scoreless seven-game performance was the most glaring flaw in San Jose's top three lines.
But the Sharks are still playing skilled, mistake-free hockey as the league's least-penalized playoff team - and they're also winning in new ways. Joe Pavelski came up with two game-winning goals and seven points, putting him second on the team to forward Ryane Clowe, who has returned from a 67-game injury absence with eight points and 30 shots against Calgary.
"It takes a contribution from every guy in uniform to get to where we want to go," said Thornton, who also had seven points in the first round. "Nobody can do it by themselves."