Fixing the power play. Limiting the Oilers scoring opportunities. Not making mental mistakes. The list is long for San Jose as they look to extend their postseason run. However, the most important item may be the one that they have handled throughout the season. Team Teal has maintained a loose demeanor under Head Coach Ron Wilson and not becoming too tight is a trademark of the franchise the past few seasons.
So far so good on that front.
“You can only be so tight or you’ll explode,” said Mark Smith. ”We know what we’ve got to do.”
The mentality is much the same as it was during San Jose’s best ever playoff run.
“In 2004 it was like this,” said Smith. “We have good chemistry. The guys aren’t pressuring each other in the traditional way, but there is pressure. It is more like ‘I’m going to do this and if you want to keep up, you have to do it too.’ That kind of pressure makes a team successful and makes them want to play with each other.”
And if the pressure from within is too much, it can be disastrous.
“That is when a team can turn on each other,” said Smith.
Blueliner Josh Gorges won a Memorial Cup Championship in juniors with Kelowna, but his team was not quite as loose as the Sharks.
“We were a little tighter, but we were confident just like this group,” said Gorges. “We know how important this game is and nothing good can come if we are too tight.”
Gorges will draw from the lose or go home mentality of the Memorial Cup tournament.
“Tonight will be the same, but we have to play it like any other game,” said Gorges.
Matt Carle knows a thing or two about elimination games, having won two NCAA titles in the single elimination tournament.
“You get used to playing where you have to win to stay alive,” said Carle. “We will stay loose and have fun tonight. You can’t come in with the mentality that your season could end tonight.”
In other works, the Sharks need to play to win and not to simply avoid losing.
Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson looks for players with the ability to deal with pressure in a positive way.
“Everybody on our team has a history with pressure and that is why scouting is so important,” said Doug Wilson. “Every player’s situation is different and we know what they’re made of. When you have players like we have, good things happen.”
The general manager leaves it to his coach with regards to the looseness of the room.
“When you have self-motivated players, you can have a little humor,” said Doug Wilson. “They are nice guys, but when the puck drops, they play hard. Ron has a good pulse on the team and knows when to loosen them up.”
PLAY THEIR BEST The past three games the Sharks have added to their woes by not playing their best hockey, while Edmonton has been at the top of their game. Now the Sharks look to reverse that trend.
“We have to play hard and our best,” said Ron Wilson. “I know we haven’t done that in the last three.”
Wilson deferred making any comments on potential lineup changes for Game 6, but did answer questions from people who seemed to forget about how Vesa Toskala had no chance on virtually every goal in Game 5.
“I don’t have any doubts about Vesa,” said Ron Wilson. “The goals were two-on-ones, deflections and due to poor coverage. He believes in himself and we believe in him 100 percent.”
Ron Wilson will be looking for strong performances from his top players, but noted that not everything can be done by three or four players.
“I expect them to play at their best, but we’re the ultimate team sport and we need everyone,” said Ron Wilson. “If one player is not at his best, he becomes the weakest link.”
Winning two consecutive games will be difficult, but the Sharks won the first two in this series.
“This is not Mission Impossible 5,” said Wilson. “We just have to go out and play our game.”
RUDE AWAKENING About the time the Sharks were attempting to get their ritual afternoon nap, a parade of honking cars drove within earshot of the team hotel and random honking continued during the afternoon.