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No Lead Safe In The Postseason

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
On Tuesday night, the Vancouver Canucks took a 2-0 lead into the third period of their Western Conference Semifinal game against the Anaheim Ducks. By the time the game was over, the Ducks tied the game in regulation and won the game early in the first overtime to give them a 3-1 lead in their series.
On Wednesday night, the San Jose Sharks had a 2-0 lead on the Detroit Red Wings. But the Red Wings answered with two last minute goals in the second and third periods and won the game 3-2 on Mathieu Schneider’s straight away slap shot with 3:56 left in the first overtime. Instead of being ahead of Detroit, 3-1, in their semifinal series, the Sharks head to Detroit with the series tied, 2-2.
Two different games. Two different situations. One common thread: no lead is safe in the postseason.
And if what happened on Wednesday night seems familiar to Sharks fans, think back to Game Two last Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. San Jose got two goals within the first five minutes. But Detroit got the last three – including the game-winner with less than two minutes left in the third period.
“We proved that again tonight, just like in Detroit,” Ryane Clowe said. 
“You have to play hard up to that 60-minute mark,” Joe Thornton said.
“We need to realize that you need to keep pushing forward and try to be better,” Craig Rivet said. “We seem to be wanting to sit back and try to cover a lead. That’s not the right way to play in this League. The players are too talented. We knew that Detroit wasn’t going to quit and we still let them come at us.”
The difficult part of the losses is that San Jose mistakes played the biggest roles in defeat.
“A couple of mistakes cost us,” Clowe said. “We have to be able to defend a lead, especially if you do a good job for 19 minutes and give up a goal (Robert Lang’s game-tying goal with 34 seconds left) in the last minute.”
“We knew they were going to battle to the end,” Kyle McLaren said. “With 30 seconds to go, we shouldn’t be giving up a goal.”
Coach Ron Wilson knows that all too well.
“We blew the game in the last minute,” Wilson said. “Some people have to take a good look in the mirror and ask why they were in the positions they were in on the ice by cheating on the offensive side of things when the other team pulled their goalie.”
While that’s a concern, so was San Jose’s offensive output. In the first period, Detroit had 11 shots on goal, compared to nine for the Sharks. But for the next three periods – counting the one overtime frame – the Red Wings had 38 to San Jose’s 18.
 “We got away from throwing pucks to the net,” Thornton said.
“The best defense is having the puck,” Clowe added.
Wilson has pointed out that Joe Thornton has had a strong series and that others needed to step up, but he wouldn’t specify individuals.   The Sharks bench boss does have a message for his entire team though.
“I need a couple of guys to wake up in this series or it’s going to be over,” Wilson said. “If you’ve only got one line that’s being creative offensively, they’re (Detroit) going to focus on that and deny chances. We need more contributions from other people.”
This Western Conference Semifinal series has turned into a best-of-three. The team that comes out on top needs to show its physical skills. But just as important, that team needs to be sharp mentally.
“You have to have a short memory in playoff hockey,” Thornton said. “We can think about it for 20 minutes and get rid of it and be ready for Saturday.”
“We’re all professionals here. We know what’s at stake,” McLaren said. “We’ve been in this situation before. We can’t hang our heads on the loss. We’ll think about what’s just happened for a few minutes. Once you get out of the rink, we should be looking forward and getting ready for Saturday.”
“We’ll just have to go and be ready to work a little harder and be more determined,” Mike Grier said.
Sharks fans at Game 4 were reunited with a familiar face as Mark Smith played in his first game since suffering a groin injury in February.
Smith, who is known for his gritty style of play and unique hair color, lined up at right wing alongside Steve Bernier and Curtis Brown in the evening’s 3-2 overtime loss.
Logging only 8:05 of ice time over the course of regulation and overtime, “Smitty” eased into his first game back.
“The first period didn’t feel that great, but three months off will do that to you,” explained Smith. “As the game went on, my legs started feeling better and by overtime I was feeling pretty good. Everything held up nice and I felt really strong.”
Inserting Smith back into the lineup has been a challenge for Ron Wilson, as other players had stepped up in Smith’s absence. Center Joe Pavelski paired 14 goals with 14 assists in 46 games as a rookie and Marcel Goc, who scored the Sharks’ second goal tonight, has been stellar on the draw, winning 63.9% on the face-offs over the last 16 games.
Smith’s patience was tested as he was forced to wait nearly a month since being activated from the injured reserve list to get the green light from Wilson.
“It stinks when you’re sitting out, and you want to get in there. As players, we want to play, and it feels good to be out there and be in the room with all the guys again.”
Smith was welcomed back to the ice by a capacity crowd at HP Pavilion. True to form, Sharks fans echoed praise when a Mark Smith highlight reel flashed on the big screen. Like any good athlete, or musician for that matter (Smith plays in a local band called Vinyl Trees), Smith fed off the excitement.
“I love the energy that the fans bring and it felt good to be back out there,” said Smith.  “I really wasn’t nervous at all.”
Smith is confident his club will come back leading the series 3-2.
“We’ll get ‘er done in Game 5,” said Smith.
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