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Leads Not Safe

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
Much has been made about the NHL’s scoring going up during the regular season and it has not stopped in the 2006 Playoffs presented by Intersil. Once upon a time (actually in 2003-04), a one-goal lead stood a good chance of holding up and a two-goal lead was almost a mortal lock. But this is 2005-06.

Just last night, the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes were down 3-0 and managed to come back and force overtime, a virtual impossibility just two years ago. Both ended up falling in the extra stanzas, but the Carolina and Dallas crowds stayed glued to their seats instead of leaving early.

And in Buffalo, whose Sabres had five playoff hat tricks since their inception in 1970, they had two in one game Monday night.

And for those watching on television, it was just as exciting.

“It was fun to watch,” said Kyle McLaren. “I was watching the Dallas-Colorado game.”

“It’s exciting for the fans and good for the game,” said Mark Smith.

Milan Michalek figured the games would go as they had in the past.

“I was watching Carolina and Montreal and I thought it was over,” said Michalek.

The NHL deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the heightened goal scoring thanks to a willingness to enforce the rules and not change what constitutes a whistle during the playoffs.

“The way the game is played and they are calling penalties, anything can happen,” said McLaren. “They are calling the game the way they are supposed to.”

The key with the new rules is the consistency.

“There is not the wide spectrum,” said McLaren. “Every ref is a little different and what you may get away with on one, you may not get away with on another, but it is pretty straight forward.”

The Sharks know that if they jump out to a three-goal lead, the possibilities of Nashville making a run is a distinct possibility.

“It certainly caught our attention,” said McLaren. “You didn’t see a lot of that in the past. It happened in the regular season and I’m sure it will happen more in the playoffs.”

Even if the Sharks jump out to a lead, they know better than to sit back.

“This time of year, you can’t afford any bad habits,” said Jonathan Cheechoo. “You have to play good defensive hockey.”

“You have to play hard until you win four games in a series,” said Steve Bernier. “You have to play hard until you wrap up the final 20 minutes of the fourth win.”

With the game returning to its roots and allowing the skill players to shine, there has also been a rash of players looking to take advantage of the referees. Coach Ron Wilson is not a big fan of the practice.

“I would never tell our guys to do it,” said Wilson. “You just hope the supervisors see it when it happens.”

The “dive” is something noted at the NHL offices.

“They have a dive list,” said Wilson. “We don’t have any one on the diving list and they have three on the list.”

With the last change at HP Pavilion, Wilson has the opportunity to make the final line change, but it is not a major concern of his for the most part.

“They are doing it a bit, but we try to prepare all our players to play through everything,” said Wilson.

There is one matchup that Wilson tries to keep in mind.

“We prefer to have Scott Hannan on the ice with Paul Kariya, but other than that I’m not concerned about matchups,” said Wilson.

On the offensive side, Wilson could do a disservice to his club by overmatching the lines.

“If they put a checking line out against Joe’s line, and the checking line plays 12 minutes and I avoid them, then Joe’s line only has eight possible minutes of ice time,” said Wilson. “Then they can’t get into a rhythm. That is why Joe and Cheech kill penalties. If we have to kill off five straight penalties, they would get cold.”

When Patrick Rissmiller was recalled from San Jose’s top development affiliate in Cleveland on March 15, he was leading the Barons in assists (37) and was second in points (52). Then the Barons all-time leading scorer was inserted into the Sharks lineup on March 16 and he skated in 18 of 19 contests to close out the season.

Now he is a playoff fixture through two games.

“He wants to play, but Roy (Barons Head Coach Sommer) told him he probably wasn’t going to be on the first or second line,” said Wilson. “He and Marcel (Goc) are like apprentices right now. Their chance will come as they perfect their craft.”

While Goc spent two full seasons in the American Hockey League before cracking the lineup, Rissmiller had a more indirect route. The Belmont, Mass. native spent four seasons at Holy Cross and then another four complete seasons in Cleveland before the March recall.

“He spent four years grinding it out with no opportunities and he was probably thinking if he doesn’t get it done, he is one and out,” said Wilson. “So, he’s done it.”

While Game 5 in Nashville isn’t until Sunday, the Sharks will skate Friday and Saturday morning in San Jose and travel to Music City on Saturday.

“We’ve had enough time to hang around together,” said Wilson.

The Sharks will host Nashville Thursday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. The game can be seen on FSN Bay Area and heard on the Sharks Radio Network and

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