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Is Tonight The Night?

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have outscored the Los Angeles Kings, 12-8, in the last two games of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. They’ve held the Kings scoreless on their last 14 power play attempts. Historically speaking, the Sharks are 7-0 when they’ve led a series 3-1. And they’re also playing at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks were tied for having the third-most wins in the regular season.

Does that mean anything to the Sharks as they go into tonight’s potential series-ending Game 5? Not really.

“If you slide into that ‘feel good’ zone here on home ice,” Coach Todd McLellan said, “you’ll pay the price for it. I keep saying, ‘Lesson learned,’ or ‘Lesson taught.’ It’s going to come down to that again tonight.”

“It’s very business-like (in the locker room),” Dany Heatley said. “We know how we have to play and what brought us success in L.A.”

While the Sharks won Games 3 and 4 at Staples during the week, McLellan wants to make sure his players don’t forget what happened in Game 2 last Saturday when the Sharks were shutout, 4-0.

“We’re well aware of how poorly we played in Game 2,” McLellan said. “We keep reminding them. We’d like to see us more focused with a better effort on home ice. It’s going to be a tough task ahead of us.”

There are two omnipresent parts of their tough task. First is playing a Kings team that’s one loss away from the end of their season. Aside from the Game 4 defeat, Los Angeles has played the Sharks hard. Game 1 was a San Jose overtime win. There was the shutout in Game 2 and the Game 3 Sharks overtime comeback is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Joe Thornton celebrates after scoring a goal in Game 4 of San Jose's Western Conference Quarterfinal series vs. Los Angeles on April 21 at the Staples Center.
“This is their season,” Joe Thornton said. “They’re going to be desperate and play hard. We know it’s going to be an intense game.”

“Their season is on the line,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’re still trying to get better and get through this series. Nothing’s being taken for granted. They’re a good team. It hasn’t been easy to get to this point. We don’t expect it to be easy tonight.”

“They’ve got nothing to lose right now,” said Ryane Clowe, who leads the Sharks in playoff scoring with four goals and seven points. “We have to have a good start tonight. The start will be important.”

“You want to match their intensity,” Patrick Marleau said. “We’re going to expect their best tonight. They’re going to come out hard and charged. It’s a good challenge for us. We’ll have to rise to it.”

The second part is closing out a series. Case in point: the WCQF series between Presidents’ Trophy winner Vancouver and No. 8 seed Chicago. The Canucks were up 3-0 until Chicago won the next two games. This morning, Pittsburgh brought a 3-1 series lead into their home game against Tampa Bay. The Lightning beat the Penguins, 8-2.

An old hockey axiom is that the series-clinching game is the hardest to win. According to McLellan, that’s true only if a few things don’t happen.

“It’s especially tough if you make it that way,” McLellan said. “If you don’t come prepared and don’t do the little things that allow you to win Games 1, 2 and 3. Then it’s certainly tougher in Game 4.

“We’re fortunate in watching Tampa and Pittsburgh play,” he added. “It’s pretty evident that one team was ready to go and the other wasn’t. Maybe we’ll be forewarned because of someone’s demise and we can apply it appropriately tonight.”

McLellan hopes his team got a message for tonight’s game after seeing Tampa Bay’s big win in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t expect us to be overconfident. I don’t expect us to feel overcomfortable,” he said. “But we have to be focused. We have to be ready.”

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