As the San Jose Sharks skated onto the ice Monday night for game three of their best-of-seven- Western Conference Semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings, the thunderous ovation from the always raucous Sharks faithful in attendance at HP Pavilion could be heard echoing down Santa Clara Street.
Waving their white “rally towels” and screaming at decibel levels more commonly heard at Mineta San Jose International Airport, Sharks fans sent a message to the visiting Red Wings and to hockey fans watching around the country… home ice advantage in San Jose does indeed make a difference.
Capturing game one of the series behind the stellar play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and in front of the boisterous fans at Joe Louis Arena, the Sharks stole the all important home ice advantage and brought it back to San Jose… an advantage that could eventually prove to be invaluable if they are to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Unfortunately, the early cheering didn’t last long as an early goal from Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom lulled the crowd into an uncomfortable and impatient grumble. The grumble would last through the first intermission.
But as the game moved on and the crowd, which was looking for any excuse to erupt, continued to support their team, things began to open up for the Sharks. Inspired by the physical play of center Joe Thornton
and another solid goaltending performance from Nabokov, the capacity crowd of 17,496 could sense that something good was going to happen for the Sharks. They were correct.
With 7:17 left in the second period, Sharks left winger Ryane Clowe
turned in another workman-like shift which culminated with the Sharks first goal of the evening. Defenseman Matt Carle and Thornton assisted on the tally which sent the crowd into frenzy. The sharks would feed off that energy.
“It gives you an extra boost and an extra jump of energy,” said Thornton after the game. “Obviously when we scored that first goal, we really fed off that and fans really got into it. When the fans get into we feel energized and you want to step back on the ice as soon as possible.”
The Sharks continued to feed off the crowd’s enthusiasm and energy throughout the remainder of the second period and the third as well. As the yelling and cheering became louder and more intense late in the game, Sharks players responded with more intense and physical play on the ice.
“Obviously the fans get so loud here, it’s just great,” added goal scorer Clowe. “We don’t ever really feel pressure to score here at home in front of our home fans. They know that if we keep playing our game we’ll score and we’ll score plenty. That’s what we tried to do tonight. We stayed patient.”
And the fans would have to remain patient as well. Late in the third, when it looked as though the game could be headed to overtime, Sharks Right Wing Jonathan Cheechoo scored what turned out to be the game winning goal at 13:19 sending the sound meter in HP Pavilion’s audio control room to record levels. Assisting on the goal was defenseman Kyle McLaren and picking up the second assist was Clowe.
Looking at the regular season stats, many argued that the Sharks would benefit from playing more games on the road. After all, during the regular season the Sharks tallied the most road wins of any team in the NHL with an impressive 26-14-1 road record while amassing a 25-12-4 record at the Shark Tank.
But as any hockey fan will tell you, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a different animal. With every game being so valuable and potentially bringing the team one step closer to the goal of winning the Stanley Cup, everybody is looking for an edge. Home ice advantage just might be the intangible that propels this team to new heights.
“There were moments during the third period of tonight’s game that were as loud as any I can remember at HP Pavilion,” said long-time Sharks season ticket holder Stu Ganz. “After the team scored that first goal, the overall play of the team really picked up and the fans really became engrossed in the game. It was like the fans and the team were feeding off each other. The intensity and atmosphere here at HP Pavilion has got to give the Sharks that extra advantage that they don’t find on the road.”
And the numbers prove that. With tonight’s win, the Sharks have run their playoff record to an impressive and unblemished 3-0 in front of the home town fans. Likewise, the Sharks have compiled a notable record of 3-2 on the road, not nearly as imposing to the opponents.
It is still too early to tell just how far the Sharks will go in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Getting through the Red Wings will continue to be a daunting task. And whoever the opponent will be in the Conference Finals is sure to provide some intense competition for the Sharks. However, with the fans at HP Pavilion doing their part to give the Sharks a decisive edge at home, the chances of the Sharks playing at least a few more weeks looks very promising.