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Sharks Strong First Period

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
It might have been the most important game in franchise history; a loss would have had devastating effects on the fans, at least, if not the players. Instead, it became one of the most inspiring wins in franchise history, a 6-5 overtime triumph. San Jose had to come out and make a statement, and while they seemed to be working against a lot of bad luck, they willed their way to a strong first period that carried all the way through the night.

Three things are required to win playoff hockey games. A team must have a sound system; it has to buy into that system, with whole-hearted belief, and it has to execute the system without deviation.

Friday evening, the need for parts 2 and 3 above was clearly demonstrated.

If there ever was an opportunity for a team to feel like fate had it in for them, the beginning of Game 2 was it. After losing Game 1 in a most distasteful way, with the winning goal glancing off defenseman Rob Blake's skate with 50 seconds left, something even worse happened to start Friday's contest.

The Avs came out pressuring, keeping the puck in the San Jose end for a full minute and more; with 1:10 gone in the contest, the Sharks tried to clear a puck from the slot, only to see it slam off Marc-Edouard Vlasic's face and into the goal for a 1-0 Colorado lead.

Late in their first power play of the game, the Sharks began to assert themselves within the system. From that point forward, they were relentless in applying pressure on Craig Anderson.

The system is simple -- the goal Friday was "pucks on the net from every possible angle", and that's what the Sharks did, capping a stellar 10 minutes of hockey with a power play goal by Manny Malhotra off a rebound.

Staying within the system, the Sharks refused to deviate, even when pucks seemed to be moved away from the net by an outside force. They wound up putting 37 pucks on net, getting 19 shots, 10 blocked, and 8 misses, while the Avs put just 12 on net, and it wasn't even a Colorado shot on which they scored.

Part of the system involves winning battles in the corners and along the boards -- that's part of all systems, but it particularly matters if you're throwing a lot of pucks on net, because there are rebounds. Ryane Clowe played a top-shelf game Friday, consistently digging out pucks and winning those tough physical battles.

The Sharks threw 18 pucks on net in the second period, and were credited with 10 shots on net. While it's certainly possible to over-rate shots on net (Colorado only registered four in the same period, but three went in), it's not possible to over-estimate their value in the Sharks system. Pucks on the net IS the system, and the Sharks kept the pressure on throughout the second period.

The Avs scored 24 seconds in; the Sharks came back to tie it on a long one-timer by Rob Blake. The Avs took the lead just 25 seconds after Blake's goal, and the Sharks again knotted it on a Setoguchi tally off a wraparound pass from a faceoff win.

"We came to the rink with a game plan -- it may take 60 minutes, it may take 70 minutes," said Setoguchi. "No one was ever in doubt; the fans kept us in the game all night."

Colorado took the lead for the fourth time on a Brandon Yip put-back off a rebound; 2:15 later, keeping pressure on, the Sharks tied the contest yet again when Scott Nichol punched home a rebound from close in. Nichol and his line played a tremendous game; Nichol had only 12 minutes of ice time, but was the second star of the game, with a goal, four shots (with three more blocked) and an amazing game-high eight hits.

"You can do all the Xs and Os you want," said the first-year Shark, "but it's right in here, it's called your heart. You've got to go out there and play with emotion. I think we didn't have any letdown or get away from the system. They got a couple of easy goals, coaches did a good job of keeping everybody in it and fresh. It was a fun game to play."

At 5:34 of the third, Chris Stewart gave the Avs their fifth lead of the night, and it looked like it might hold up, even though the Sharks were busy peppering Anderson. Finally, with Nabokov on the bench and a sixth attacker on the ice, Olympian Joe Pavelski jumped over Adam Foote, in the crease, as a puck from Heatley hit him and dropped to his feet. He flipped it in as he landed on the ice with just 42 seconds left, on the Sharks 90th puck on net for the evening. It was the Sharks second "dirty goal" of the night, and put the teams into overtime.

"That was the talk -- stay with the plan," Pavelski said. "Whoever could stay with it the longest was going to win. We overcame it tonight and got the last goal."

In the overtime, the Sharks stayed in the system, fighting for pucks and ice position while maintaining pressure on Anderson. Jed Ortmeyer drew a penalty on Foote for interference at the Avs net, and the stage was set for a potentially decisive power play.

The game winner came, fittingly, on the 100th shot on net, as Setoguchi netted his second of the night, through Anderson's legs on a deflection at the corner of the crease that chased the albatrosses out of San Jose for a while. The power play goal came at 5:22 of the overtime, capping a total team effort with a "character win."

"It really was," said McLellan.. "It was a team effort. The other night, we talked a lot about systems and what we didn't do well, how we didn't get in the zone. Tonight, I'll talk about will, the work ethic, the grind. Not about Xs and Os, I thought it was real evident that everybody showed up to play tonight."

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