It’s Saturday morning. Two nights ago the Sharks gained control of the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a thrilling 4-3 victory at HP Pavilion. Tomorrow night they will attempt to strong-arm the Flames and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But today, the Sharks just skate.
This morning’s practice at Sharks Ice at San Jose wasn’t much different than any other practice. The team skated for about an hour then will head out to Calgary later this afternoon. But there is a change in the atmosphere. People seem different.
First off, there is Patrick Marleau
. Yes, visibly he looks more like Jody Shelley with a bruised eye and stitched cheek. But the Sharks captain is sporting more than just battle scars. On the ice, he looks quicker and more confident. And although this change has been noticed by (and brought up by) pretty much everyone in the media, Marleau can’t really explain it.
“No. No,” he answered when asked if he feels different. Then he paused, choosing his words carefully. “As a team, it’s been great. Everyone’s playing hard. Things are going good.”
Good is an understatement. Marleau is currently riding a five-game point streak over which he has notched two goals and four assists. He has been promoted to the first line alongside Joe Thornton
and Ryane Clowe
and he is averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time during the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
“Well obviously when you’re on the top of your game like he is, you have a little more confidence,” said Thornton when questioned about any differences in Marleau. “He’s a great player and I’ve seen him play many, many games. But, yea, I’ve seen him gain more confidence.”
But Thornton is also unable to pinpoint a change in his captain.
“I have no idea. But whatever it is, it’s working so we shouldn’t bug him about it,” he added.
Then there’s Jonathan Cheechoo. Similar to Marleau, fans had been waiting on Cheechoo to spark offensively this season. But then the postseason hit and the 27-year-old had four points in five games. Cheechoo came up big in Game 4 by scoring a sniper of a shot to tie the game in Calgary and added back-to-back goals in the third period of Game 5 to seal the Sharks 4-3 victory.
“You’ve got pick up your game in the postseason,” explained Cheechoo. “I know my job on this team is to score goals and I’m going to work as hard as I can to do that. But at the same time I’m going to be responsible defensively because that is one of the things that our team game is built around.”
The Sharks will be depending on Marleau, Cheechoo and Thornton to continue their hot streaks tomorrow night in Calgary. With the series on the line, these players will have to shut down a desperate Flames squad.
"We know it’s going to be tough," said Marleau. "We’re feeling confident from winning a couple here in a row and we’ve played fairly well to get here. We know what we have to do and it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it."
The Sharks can clinch the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a victory over the Flames in Game 6 on Sunday in Calgary. The game will be broadcast at 5:00 PM (Pacific) on Comcast SportsNet, 98.5 KFOX FM, Sharks Radio Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.