Sharks Coach Ron Wilson tried to play down the role of star power following his team’s pivotal 4-3 victory on Thursday night as it brightly.
“They don’t put one name on the Cup, they put everybody’s,” he said, recalling recent conversations with his team. “And no one name is going to be in bold type or anything like that. Everybody’s going to take credit and that’s how we have to play.”
Throughout the early part of the first-round Stanley Cup series, Wilson felt his star players were trying too hard amidst the high expectations, trying to win it by themselves.
However, now those star players are contributing more than ever, which has allowed the Sharks to pull into a 3-2 series lead.
That was proven in Game 5 when Sharks Captain Patrick Marleau
scored the go-ahead goal and assisted on Jonathon Cheechoo’s final tally that proved to be the winner.
And right wing Cheechoo, a 23-goal regular-season scorer, provided two goals, giving him three in the past two games, all in the crucial third period.
“Those were huge,” teammate Ryane Clowe
said. “We really capitalized on our opportunities. With those guys, you don’t worry about their scoring too much, because they’re getting the chances. If they weren’t then you’d worry.”
Marleau has been the Sharks’ Most Valuable Player throughout the series. His determination in Game 3, after getting blasted twice against the boards and suffering cuts to his cheek and nose, has been the defining moment for the Sharks thus far. Such efforts don’t show up on the stat sheets, and neither did many of his highlights on Thursday, but they proved critical to the Sharks victory.
“Patty was doing everything: forechecking, backchecking, winning faceoffs,” Wilson said. “He scored a great goal that really kind of gave us a chance to breathe for a bit going into the third period.
“And he blocked a couple of shots that were huge, including one that set him and Cheech off on a 2-on-1 for the goal. So, Patty’s leading by example and you can’t ask for anything more. I can’t anyway.”
Until his scoring outburst, Wilson said he couldn’t fault Cheechoo for failing to find the net.
“Scoring comes and goes,” Wilson said. “You have to get a little bit lucky. I watch all these games on TV, and people are wondering why a goal-scorer hasn’t scored in the first two games of a playoff series.
“There are two reasons: One, you’re being marked a little bit closer. And two, in the regular season you go two, three, four or five games without a goal. That’s not a big deal. It seems to be a bigger deal when the playoffs start. You just have to be patient.”
Cheechoo’s back-to-back third-period goals gave the Sharks a 4-1 lead. His first came on a close-range follow over prone goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and his second closed out a break alongside Marleau at 8:22.
“It’s nice to contribute,” Cheechoo said. “Everybody’s got to contribute in their own way. It’s time to lay all your cards down.”
Marleau, who now has six playoff points and two goals, said “You can’t take a shift off. It’s going to be desperate hockey for both teams from here on out.”
Though Marleau played down his own contribution, teammate Brian Campbell set it straight: “He’s somewhat of a quiet leader, but he’s a bull out there. He’s doing what we need him to do and he’s pulling guys along with him. That’s what leaders are supposed to do.”
And, as the Sharks prepare for their first chance to eliminate the Flames, in Game 6 in Calgary, it couldn’t come at a better time.
CHEECHOO TRAIN ROLLING ON GAME-WINNER
The Sharks offense was pushed over the mountain top by Cheechoo who came up clutch yet again, scoring his third goal in two games and his third goal of the series to power the Sharks to a 32 series lead. For Cheechoo, who turned in his best game of the series with a dominant fore check and consistent play throughout the entire game, it was his clutch goal scoring that first gave the Sharks breathing room in the third period and ultimately the win.
“It felt really good,” Cheechoo said of scoring the goals. “The guys were making great plays. I was just getting open and trying to get myself to the front of the net and keep the pucks alive.”
On his first goal of the evening, Cheechoo displayed the work ethic and drive that he is known for and that has resulted in goals in two straight games.
As Sharks center Joe Pavelski
skated through the slot, Pavelski was able to unleash a wicked wrist shot that nearly beat Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. A hardworking Cheechoo was following the play by driving toward the net. His hard work paid off as he was rewarded with the loose puck which squirted from beneath Kiprusoff. Cheechoo was able to snap the goal over a sprawled out Kiprusoff to give the Sharks the 3-1 lead.
When Cheechoo made his way back to the bench after scoring his first goal, he received a few words of praise and encouragement from veteran Jeremy Roenick. Roenick’s words seemed to pay dividends as Cheechoo went out shortly thereafter to score again and extend the Sharks lead to 4-1.
“It’s so loud in there I just know he was excited,” said Cheechoo. “He’s great at cheering you on and happy when you score and when he scores so it’s just nice to have the bench involved like that.”
On his second goal, Cheechoo teamed up with Captain Patrick Marleau
on a two-on-one break. An outmanned Flames defenseman tried to cut off the pass from Marleau to Cheechoo, but Marleau’s pinpoint pass landed right on the tape of Cheechoo’s stick. The Moose Factory, Ont. Product knew exactly what to do with the puck, sending a rocket of a shot into the upper left hand corner of the net. A diving Kiprusoff tried to dive across the crease to snare the Cheechoo shot, but to no avail as the puck hit nothing but the twine to give the Sharks a 4-1 lead.
“Patty made a nice play blocking the shot in our end and beat his guy,” said Cheechoo. “On the two-on-one the defense has to choose to take the pass or take one of the guys. Luckily Patty made the pass pretty early and I pretty much had an open net to shoot at.”
For Cheechoo it was career Stanley Cup Playoff goal number 14, bringing him to within one goal of former Sharks captain and current Flames player Owen Nolan for second on the Sharks all-time playoff goal scoring list. Both players trail Sharks current captain Patrick Marleau
who has tallied 33 playoff goals.
But catching the former Sharks Captain for #2 on the playoff scoring sheet is not a priority for Cheechoo at this time.
“Not as much as a win,” he said smiling. “That’s all we want is to get that last game and move on to the next series.”
Despite the goal scoring, more important to Cheechoo was the win, which gives the Sharks a 3-2 lead in the series and puts the Flames against the wall. With the victory, the Sharks will now have an opportunity to head to Calgary on Sunday and finish off the series to move into the Western Conference semifinals. But Cheechoo and his teammates know that the Calgary Flames will not be going down without a fight.
“It makes their job a little tougher,” said Cheechoo. “They have to win two games, we have to win one. We knew we had to come out here and take advantage of our home ice. They’re going to come hard, you know. Their backs are against the wall. We’re going to have to come out and match their intensity, but at the same time we’re going to have to stick to our game plan. That’s what got us here and if we stick to that we’ll be okay.”
Game 6 will be in Calgary at 5 p.m. PST and will be available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.