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Inside the Cage: Resiliency

by Ross McKeon @rossmckeon /

What the Sharks did, and how they did it, during just over a 24-hour span on the weekend couldn't have happened without strong leadership and resiliency.

San Jose picked up two wins and four crucial points in the standings with a pair of come-from-behind wins under adverse circumstances and accomplished in completely different manners.

"The one thing about this group they don't get down on themselves and there's a lot of perseverance there - whether we're down, whether we're up and we lose a lead," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.

The Sharks zipped out to a 3-0 lead on visiting Edmonton on Saturday night, watched as the Oilers stormed back to take a 4-3 lead in the final period, then scored three times in the final 17 minutes for a 6-4 win.

A late-night flight to Southern California with an after-midnight hotel check-in followed before Sunday's puck drop in Anaheim that came just 22 hours after the Sharks battled Edmonton. San Jose fell into a 2-0 hole against another Pacific Division rival, but rallied for two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation and out-skilled the Ducks in a shootout for a 3-2 victory.

"There's good leadership in this dressing room," Sharks alternate captain Logan Couture said. "It starts with the coaching staff. They do a great job not letting us get down on the bench, they're positive. That leads to us staying positive."

Funny Couture says it starts with coaches, who in addition to DeBoer are provided with support from assistants Steve Spott, Rob Zettler and Dave Barr. DeBoer suggests it's just the opposite. The leadership starts with the players.

"Those guys never want to take credit for it, but there's no doubt it starts there," he said. "Those guys never change - Pavs, Logan, Burnzie, Vlasic - their demeanor doesn't change whether we're up or down."

The Sharks absolutely miss the skill and locker room presence Joe Thornton provides. The team's vocal alternate captain is also looked upon as their spiritual leader as well. That's a lot to try and replace with Thornton rehabs from a recent arthroscopic procedure to this right knee in the hopes of returning.

Toss on top the fact the Sharks had to fill another leadership void left when Patrick Marleau signed with Toronto in the offseason, and it's been an adjustment made almost behind the scenes that hasn't been an issue throughout the regular season. 

Designated captain since 2015-16, Pavelski leads the way and finds help in all corners of the room. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Couture are recognized as vocal leaders who also lead by example. In addition, Brenden Dillon, Joel Ward, Chris Tierney and Martin Jones show leadership skills as well.

"(As with) any of the teams I've won with your leaders have to be your most honest and hardest-working players," DeBoer said. "And we have that here. It's hard not to give your best when your best players are playing that hard."

Pavelski led the way on Saturday. He assisted on the game's first goal - the first of the career of rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan - and scored an unassisted goal to stake the hosts to an early lead. But after Edmonton scored three times in the second to tie it after 40 minutes, and took a 4-3 lead just 1:21 into the third, the Sharks' character was being tested.

"That fourth goal could have been back-breaking to a lot of groups considering how we got to that point," DeBoer said. "There's a lot of resiliency there."

Video: EDM@SJS: Ryan put Sharks ahead late with second goal

Tomas Hertl scored his 15th at 3:41 to tie it thanks to an excellent primary assist from Couture. And Pavelski added an assist to Ryan's second goal of the game - a tie-breaking, even-strength strike at 17:33. Pavelski capped a four-point game at 18:48 by filling an empty net with his 14th goal and fourth in two outings.

"There's a lot of leaders in here who step up in moments like that," second-year forward Timo Meier said. 

As deep as the Sharks dug on Saturday against an Edmonton team that won't be a part of the playoffs, they worked even harder against the rested and host Ducks, who definitely have their sights set on playing past early April. 

After weathering Anaheim's storm for 40 minutes, and surrendering a second goal 6:28 into the third, Couture struck with his 23rd goal of the season at 10:56 and he found Meier with a shot-pass with Jones pulled for an extra-attacker tip-in goal at 19:06.

"We went out that last shift and the chatter was 'We're scoring. We're not going to give up an empty-net goal'," Pavelski said. "Guys were ready. As soon as you tie it up your only thoughts are winning."

Video: SJS@ANA: Couture finds twine on beautiful drive

"To come back down 2-0 in the final 10 minutes and win in a shoot out is special," Couture added. 

And who were the shootout heroes besides Jones denying two Duck efforts? Pavelski and Couture potted the two goals that added up to an emotional win.

"I thought we played an excellent road game considering the circumstances," DeBoer said. "This is back-to-back and less than 24 hours from playing (Saturday) night so it was a gutsy win."

And, during a stretch of five consecutive games against division opponents that ends with Thursday's visit by Vancouver, the Sharks know there's no time to rest of their laurels. Sunday's win gave the team a 10-7-4 mark during a challenging portion of the schedule that included playing 15 of 21 times away from SAP Center.

That home-road ratio turns around a bit starting with Tuesday's visit by Arizona when the Sharks will play as host for all but four of their next 13 games through March 10.

"They're not handing out playoff spots yet," DeBoer said. "We're playing some good hockey, but there's a lot of work left here."

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