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Closeness Counts

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
DETROIT -- It feels like history is repeating for the San Jose Sharks, who for the second year in a row hold a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinal series with Game 3 set for Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Just like last year, the Sharks are coming off a pair of one-goal victories at HP Pavilion and have now won six of seven playoff games against the Red Wings and 10 of 12 overall. With that recent dominance against the Red Wings in mind, what's going to prevent this series from being a carbon copy of last year's that saw the Sharks take a 3-0 lead and wrap it up in five games?

"I think we're fresher," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We were coming off a Game 7 in Phoenix last year and playing two days later. I thought we were close in last year's games as well, but I think we're even closer in these two games."

That's an opinion shared by the Sharks.

"They've been one-goal games. They've been that close," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "As well as we've played, we've only beaten them by one goal. We know we need to keep getting better."

Most teams with a 2-0 lead in a series wouldn't tinker with what's been working, but Coach Todd McLellan shuffled his lines during Tuesday's practice. The Sharks have scored just four times in this series, and the goals from Benn Ferriero and Niclas Wallin were the result of fortunate bounces.

The third line with Torrey Mitchell, Joe Pavelski and Kyle Wellwood remained intact, but the top two lines were Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe-Patrick Marleau-Dany Heatley.

"We're interchangeable. Anyone can play with anyone," Couture said. "It's the way this team has played all year. Everyone's played with everyone at certain times. No matter what they do with the three lines, if they mix them up, everyone's comfortable."

The offensive pressure from the Sharks has been pretty consistent throughout the series, and McLellan said the change wasn't something that would necessarily carry over into Wednesday's game. He wants his team prepared should the Red Wings place Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on different lines, as they were during Tuesday's practice, and insert veterans Kris Draper and/or Mike Modano, who didn't play in Games 1 and 2.

"I think Detroit will make some changes with their lines," McLellan said. "They've got a couple veteran players that have played in these situations before that may be in the lineup. We've got to be prepared to react and be ready to go any way. We're not sure what we're doing yet. We'll wait and see."

If the Sharks are feeling any pressure, they're certainly not showing it.

Mitchell spent the first few minutes of Tuesday's practice skating with a hanger on his back, a prank pulled on him by teammates. He had a laugh about it afterward, and McLellan said it's a sign his team is in the right frame of mind.

"It's still an environment where you want them to be relaxed and enjoy it a little bit too," McLellan said. "Now, we could come out tomorrow night and take one on the chin and everybody will be talking about the hanger. That has nothing to do with the outcome tomorrow night. It's them being relaxed, having fun, building a little camaraderie.

"I actually saw it hanging there and didn't know how long it would stay. It stayed for quite a while."

The Sharks aren't resting on their laurels. They're trying to stay one step ahead of the Red Wings, who played an inspired third period in Game 2 and nearly erased a two-goal deficit in the final six minutes.

Beating a team 10 times in 12 chances is impressive, but McLellan knows all that means nothing if they want to eliminate the Red Wings for a second straight postseason.

"We have to understand that we can't let our guard down," McLellan said. "I've said that 100 times already. I've reminded our guys probably 200 times already."

Overconfidence certainly doesn't seem to be a problem, either.

"I don't think we expect to blow Detroit out any time we play them," forward Ryane Clowe said. "The fact that we're beating Detroit in one-goal games, it's a good sign of experience and composure."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Author: Dave Lozo | Staff Writer

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