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Sharks stay calm despite early series deficit

by Brian Compton / San Jose Sharks
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Neil Young was one of the 17,562 at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night, but even he stopped rocking when Chris Stewart scored with 49.3 seconds left in the third period in the Colorado Avalanche's 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in a Game 1 upset.

Suddenly, the Sharks -- the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference -- find themselves in a must-win situation in Game 2 on Friday night as they hope to even this series up before it shifts to Denver on Sunday for Games 3 and 4.

Truth be told, no team in recent memory is probably under more pressure heading into the second game of a first-round series on home ice than the Sharks. They are attempting to rid themselves of a dark cloud hanging over a franchise that has won 104 regular-season games since Oct. 2008 but is now 2-5 in playoff contests against No. 8 seeds. San Jose has notched four consecutive 100-point seasons, yet hasn't been past the second round of the playoffs since the NHL returned from a work stoppage in 2005.

But when it comes to Game 2 against the Avs on Friday, nobody in the Sharks' dressing room was prepared to put a "must-win" label on it.

"I don't think we want to put ourselves in that situation verbally," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've got to get out and establish our game. We've got to find a way to play in their zone much more quicker and much more often than we did last night. If we do that we feel comfortable we'll get enough opportunities that eventually will go in."

San Jose had some opportunities early, as it fired six shots on a goal during a power play it received less than a minute into the game. But it fired a total of three in the second period, and first-line weapons Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau combined for three shots in the whole night.

"I don't know if its must-win, but it would feel a lot better going tied up to their building than down two," said Marleau, who paced the team with 44 goals during the regular season. "Each game's big. We want to win."

It will take a 60-minute effort to accomplish that -- something the Sharks were unable to put forth on Wednesday. Colorado dominated the middle 20 minutes, rarely allowing the Sharks to carry the puck up ice into the Avs' zone.

"I don't think we're in a must-win by any means," San Jose captain Rob Blake said. "But we need to play better and be more effective through the neutral zone, and we'll get to that point. We were stronger in the third period, but we need to sustain that throughout the game."

Sharks winger Devin Setoguchi -- the team's best forward in Game 1 -- believes his team simply just needs to do a better job of burying its chances.

"It's definitely one where we want to win," Setoguchi said. "But you need four to win a series. A must-win would be where we're down three. Obviously, it's a big game for us and we know what we need to do. But we don't go into it thinking it's do-or-die. We go and we stick to our game plan and just play with some urgency and do what we can control."

One thing the Sharks can control is the ability to not allow the "Here we go again" syndrome to make its way around the dressing room. So far, so good.

"You've just got to be mentally tough," said Blake, who won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. "We've got to understand that it's a seven-game series."

"We've got a good veteran team," center Joe Thornton said. "We've done it all year long and we've got to stick to it. Nothing abnormal in this locker room."

Obviously, talk of the Sharks' postseason woes won't go away until they do something about it. With another sold-out crowd expected at HP Pavilion for Game 2 on Friday night, another opportunity will be provided for McLellan's club to quiet the critics.

"It's a seven-game series," McLellan said. "We knew coming in this wasn't going to be an easy task for us by any means. The 1-8 scenario, the pressure of the past that we get asked about all the time … but they're a good hockey club. We know that and we respect them for it. This is the first opportunity to overcome. Let's see if we can."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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