Jeremy Roenick was brought to San Jose for moments like this: a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series.
But Roenick, the 19-year veteran, provided far more than even Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson could have anticipated, scoring two goals and four points in a 5-3 first-round clinching victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday before a sellout crowd of 17,496 at HP Pavilion.
He’s 38, but said afterward, “I think I’ve got the legs of an 18-year-old right now.”
Roenick’s two second-period goals, scored three minutes apart, enabled the Sharks to tie and take the lead during a decisive four-goal flurry. He also assisted on goals in the first and second periods as the Sharks built a 5-2 advantage.
His point total, his first points of the series, was one off his career high for a single game, playoffs or otherwise, and his game-winner was his team-leading 11th this year counting the regular season.
Playing in his 142nd career playoff game, Roenick’s experience was vital, said Sharks captain Patrick Marleau
“His confidence showed going into the game tonight,” Marleau said. “He was keeping guys loose, keeping guys in the game. You can’t really put a price tag on that type of experience.”
Roenick said he received special motivation from being a healthy scratch for Game 6 in Calgary, a game the Sharks lost 2-0.
Roenick described it as “probably the worst game I’ve ever seen.”
Besides witnessing his team’s struggles, Roenick also wondered where he fit in.
“I don’t think he had any intention of playing me beyond Game 5,” Roenick said of Wilson. “All I know is that in practice, I was skating on the fifth line.”
Wilson said he wanted to give Roenick a rest.
Roenick took it differently.
“Whether it was a statement or message to me, I don’t know,” Roenick said. “But I think it was his way of sending a message that, ‘You better get your butt going.’”
Wilson said the plan was to get the veteran back for Game 7, if the series should get to that point, or a second-round Game 1.
“J.R. was struggling a little bit,” Wilson said. “We needed him energized. I told him last night that I was going to rely on him heavily. But did I expect four points? No. I thought maybe he’d do something on our power play -- he’s got a lot of poise. But I didn’t expect the type of game he gave us.”
And did Roenick feel like he sent a message of his own through his performance?
“Absolutely,” he said.
Roenick said he needed to step up his play for Game 7, and to challenge his teammates to do the same.
“These are the games when careers are defined and reputations are made,” he said.
Roenick’s first goal was on a long-distance shot during a power play. Devin Setoguchi screened Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who saw the puck squeeze between his legs.
At 9:04 of the second period, Roenick followed his own deflected shot with another from a difficult angle from the left side. The power-play goal gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead.
“I’m very fortunate, no question,” Roenick said. “Being there helps, knowing what to think and what to expect.”
And that’s exactly the type of knowledge that he’s tried to impart to his teammates.
“He’s said this is the best team he’s ever been on,” Pavelski said. “He said we’ll be all right if we just keeping it going and stay with it the whole night. He proved he was right.”
Roenick said he’s never been afraid of sharing his experiences with his teammates.
“I’m always talking and letting guys know what I’ve been through,” Roenick said. “We have guys that are respectful. They listen and they follow.”
Roenick made sure of that.
PLAYOFF ROOKIE WELCOME
In what many were calling the biggest game in Sharks franchise history, the Sharks received a veteran-like performance from rookie sensation Devin Setoguchi who scored his first career playoff goal to preserve the Sharks 5-3 series clinching victory over the Calgary Flames.
Setoguchi, who didn’t see playing time in the Sharks in the series until Game 4, teamed with line mate and NHL playoff veteran Jeremy Roenick to provide the offensive 1-2 punch that the Sharks lacked in Game 6 and for most of their first round series against the flames.
The Sharks, who exploded for five goals, attributed much of their offensive success in Game 7 to playing a complete game.
“We battled hard tonight,” said Setoguchi. “We played a full 60 minutes I think. We maybe sat back a little bit in the third period at the start and let them come in. But we played our game. We executed what we wanted to do tonight and we came out with a big win.”
But it wasn’t only his scoring that made the Flames take notice of Setoguchi out on the ice. Setoguchi used his 6-foot; 200 lb. frame to create opportunities for his teammates by standing in front of the net and screening goaltenders Miikka Kiprusoff and Curtis Joseph while also playing a strong game on the defensive side of the ice, coming up with big hits and playing suffocating defense when the team needed it most.
“I try to play my game. Get pucks deep, finish my checks and use my speed to my advantage and try to create energy for the team,” added Setoguchi. “I think if I am moving my feet, I’m doing my job out there.”
Setoguchi’s efforts did not go unrewarded as Roenick finished with two goals and two assists to tie Mike Ricci for the franchise record for most points in a playoff series with four. After the game, Roenick was quick to give praise to his rookie linemate.
“He’s awesome. I can’t say enough,” Roenick said of Setoguchi. “For a young kid to come in and have that much poise and play as strong as he did, scoring a goal and, when I scored my goal, screening the goaltender, he showed that he has big game mentality.”
After the game, Setoguchi was just as complementary of Roenick, his veteran line mate who provided not only Setoguchi, but the entire Sharks team with some valuable leadership on the ice.
“What more can you say about him?” asked Setoguchi. “The guy had something like five Game 7 goals (coming into the game). I think he made it six and seven tonight. You knew he was going to come ready to play. He plays with passion. He really played a great game. It was a privilege to be out there with him on the ice.”
Setoguchi provided much needed insurance on the Sharks fifth goal as he was able to snap a shot on goaltender Curtis Joseph who entered the game in relief of starter Kiprusoff. Setoguchi’s initial shot was saved by Joseph. But the Calgary defenseman sent the loose puck up the boards to a waiting Roenick who was able to pass the puck to Setoguchi who turned quickly and ripped a shot past a screened Joseph.
“It felt great. To help out the team in a way…the new goalie had come in so we just had to put pucks on the net. I turned and took a quick shot and it just went in,” said Setoguchi.
Now Setoguchi and the Sharks will turn their attention to the Dallas Stars, who will come to town this Friday to begin their second round playoff series at HP Pavilion.
“It’s going to be a great series. We go home and we enjoy this one tonight and then we come to work at practice. That’s what we need to do in order to be ready for them.”
San Jose will host Dallas in Game 1 of Round 2 at 7 p.m. on Friday at HP Pavilion. The game will be on 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com with the television schedule still to be announced.