After more than four months of trying to climb out of the cellar thanks to a 10-game losing streak in November, the San Jose Sharks made a giant step in the right direction towards the Stanley Cup Wednesday night. A Christian Ehrhoff goal in overtime gave the Sharks a 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, earning them another trip to the playoffs. For Team Teal this will be their fourth visit to the postseason in the last five seasons.
Perhaps there has been no other Sharks team more worthy of earning a shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup. The tale of two seasons has unfolded before our eyes and everyone in San Jose is ready for the Sharks playoff push.
“It’s huge,” said Joe Thornton
, who sparked the mid-season turnaround. “If you told people three months ago that this team was going to make the playoffs I think everyone would say no, but we’ve got a great character team and we like playing together. We’re happy but we still have a lot of hockey left.”
And who else but Mr. Thornton would have the biggest game of the season Wednesday night in helping the Sharks knock Vancouver to the verge of elimination. The big centerman registered four assists on the night, leaving fans in Vancouver, his teammates and his coach in awe.
“He had a fantastic game,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “It was probably the most dominant game he’s had for us. He was a force all night when he got the puck down low and behind the net. I don’t know how any defenseman can control a guy like that when he’s possessed. He was just fantastic.”
Thornton fed four different scorers on the night, including Grant Stevenson, Nils Ekman, Scott Hannan and Ehrhoff. Stevenson’s goal came on a long lead pass from Joe that ended up sending the rookie on a breakaway. But despite his outstanding night, the humble Thornton refused to take much credit.
“For me it was just getting the puck on some of the guys tape tonight and they found the back of the net,” said Thornton. “Two of our defensemen, Hannan and Christian, made great plays. They did all the work, I just gave it to them.”
“I think we’ve been seeing him do that all year,” said Hannan. “He’s amazing with the puck. He has the ability to find guys and put it right where they want to be to shoot.”
Ehrhoff’s overtime tally marked the second of the season, as he notched another game-winning overtime goal against Nashville on March 11. For the blueliner, this one had a little more meaning.
“It was a special goal because it was playoff clinching,” said Ehrhoff. “Everyone is happy and we feel great right now. We had a rough start to the season. To come back is a great accomplishment. To do it with a couple games left in the season was kind of unexpected, but now we have a few more games to try and climb even higher.”
The goal came just 34 seconds into the overtime stanza and completed a valiant comeback in which the Sharks were down 2-0 early in the contest.
“We never gave up tonight,” said Ehrhoff. “It was kind of strange because normally we don’t take many penalties. Unfortunately that happened tonight, but we hung in there and that shows great character.”
“We’ve been down umpteen points behind and caught people,” said Wilson. “Two goals down in the first ten minutes isn’t a real big hill to climb for us.”
The Sharks won’t be satisfied with the number seven spot, and their quest for something greater starts Thursday night against the same Vancouver team. After a night of travel, the Sharks will host the Canucks, who will be fighting for their playoff lives, in the first of three final home games this season for San Jose.
“It’s huge to get that out of the way, but all we get to do is think about it for a few hours here and then we play Vancouver again,” said Wilson. “We want to finish as high as we can. The minimum here is seven, but if we can get sixth, or even fifth, that’d be a real feather in our cap from where we came from.”
Thursday’s game will surely show opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to team confidence and poise.
“They’re going to be desperate and we’re going to play with a sense of urgency,” added Wilson. “There’s a big difference. Urgent is a positive feeling and desperate is a negative feeling. If we think we’ve achieved what we set out to, we haven’t. We want to challenge for the Stanley Cup and we have the people to do that.”