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Sharks Know Challenge of Closing out Series

by Jonathan Okanes / San Jose Sharks

There’s a popular theory that the fourth win is the hardest one to get in a best-of-seven playoff series.

The Sharks are the perfect team to substantiate that.

Two years ago, San Jose raced out to a 3-0 lead against Detroit in the Western Conference Semifinals, only to watch the Red Wings claw back to force a winner-take-all Game 7. The Sharks held on, but undoubtedly learned a hard lesson that a series is indeed not over until that fourth win is registered.

And you can expect Sharks coach Todd McLellan to remind his team off that lesson now that they have won the first three games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series against the Vancouver Canucks.

“Tomorrow, I will remind them that the last time we were in this situation, we had to play seven,” McLellan said after Sunday night’s 5-2 victory in Game 3. “There’s a lot of hockey left between these two teams.”

The Sharks obviously would prefer there isn’t quite so much hockey left against the Canucks. If they can close out the series in a sweep Tuesday night at HP Pavilion – where they lost just twice in regulation during the regular season and played in front of a ear-piercing sellout crowd Sunday – they would set themselves up for an extended rest before they commenced the Western Conference Semifinals.

But San Jose obviously doesn’t expect to show up Tuesday and just tango into the next round. Although the Sharks have been the better team in the series, the Canucks arguably played better for more of Game 2 and were fairly even with San Jose in Game 1. Sunday, Vancouver was blindsided by a three-goal flurry by the Sharks in 2 minutes, 27 seconds, a stretch that made either team’s level of almost
irrelevant for the final 16 minutes.

“They are going to give everything they have,” said Sharks center Logan Couture, who had a four-point on Sunday with two power play goals and two assists. “Their season is on the line. They’re going to be
their best. We know that. We expect that. We are ready for a battle.”

When the Sharks established their 3-0 series lead against the Red Wings in 2011, they won all three games by one goal and two took overtime. The Red Wings then won two of the next three by one goal. San Jose won the decider, 3-2.

“They were very much like (the Canucks),” McLellan said. “They are experienced. They had won a Cup, they had been to the Finals. There was zero give-up or panic on their behalf. That series reminds me a little bit of this one. It was close all the way through. Vancouver is going to do the same thing. They have a lot o talent and a lot of veteran players that have played a long time. They are going to come and play. If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.”

Of course, the Sharks do have some things going for them. They still have yet to lose to the Canucks this season – they won all three meetings between the teams during the regular season. And Game 4 is at home, where San Jose is clearly at its best.

“It’s a tough place to play here,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said. “It’s intimidating to come and play here. We’re hard to play against at home. We love playing at home. Our home record speaks for itself. We play very, very hard here. Game 4 is going to be the biggest game of the year for us.”

Added McLellan: “It feels good playing in the building. (Joe Pavelski) said after the game that the fans become his legs sometimes because they are so energizing, so excited about the game. You kind of ride on that for awhile. That certainly helps.”

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