Before Sunday’s Game One against Edmonton, the last time the Sharks played in a game was last Sunday in the decisive Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Nashville.
Since then, the Sharks had two days off followed by four days of practice at Logitech Ice.
Over on the other side, Edmonton hadn’t played a game since they rallied to score four goals in the third period to eliminate Detroit in their quarterfinal match last Monday.
Before Sunday’s game, Sharks Coach Ron Wilson didn’t know what to expect. “You’ve seen what teams with long layoffs have done in these playoffs, plus we have three games in four days,” Wilson said. “I think (Sunday’s game) could be really sloppy.”
“In a perfect world,” Scott Thornton said, “we wouldn’t have had six days off. It’s a little bit long.”
Maybe the Sharks were affected by the long absence from game action in the beginning. The Oilers got their lone goal by Jaroslav Spacek at 2:33 of the first period on the power play. Edmonton also had nine shots on goal in the first period, but only seven for the final 40 minutes. “For the first 10-15 minutes, we had to shake the rust off a little bit,” goaltender Vesa Toskala said. “But we were skating hard after that.”
Another factor is the home crowd. San Jose’s building has arguably the loudest fans in the National Hockey League. But sometimes, that can work against a team. “When you’re playing at home and you have so much energy saved up, you go a little too hard too early,” defenseman Tom Preissing said. “That’s what happened the first five minutes or so and after that, we felt good.”
While the Sharks didn’t play a game all last week, the down time was time well spent. “We were ready,” Thornton said. “We had some good practices this week and some guys got some rest. Guys were fresh and ready to go.”
THE BIG MYSTERY Besides the long layoff, another question of the day was how Edmonton was going to come after the Sharks. The Oilers were successful against Detroit because they played out of character. Instead of playing their normal fast-paced style, Edmonton slowed down Detroit by sitting back.
“I never thought it was my duty to divulge my game plan,” Oilers Coach Craig MacTavish told the Canadian media last week.
“We’re almost going to have to wait until the first game to see how they decide to play us,” Wilson said.
On Sunday night, Edmonton skated to form: skating hard and not holding back.
The Oilers M.O. didn’t come as a surprise to anyone in Teal.
“We all expected Edmonton to come out and skate, crash and bang and come at us hard,” Thornton said. “They have forwards who can really skate and really move the puck. That’s one of their assets, so why not use it?”
“We expected them to put a lot of pressure on us,” Preissing said of the Oilers, who were 3-1 in the regular season against the Sharks. “They are a high-pressure team and they’ve had some success against us. That’s basically what we expected.”
Edmonton’s brand of play wasn’t restricted to chasing pucks in the corner or going to the net. “Every faceoff, they were coming at us hard,” Thornton said. “They purposely lost some draws so they could forecheck and come at our D.
“I think our guys on the backend did a real strong job moving the puck up and getting it out of the zone.”