If you throw in the overtime periods of the Sharks and Avalanche series, the two clubs are already well into their fifth game of ice time. Things won’t get any easier as both teams will hunt for a 3-2 lead Thursday night at HP Pavilion. The extra length of the contests takes a physical toll out of the skaters, but the mental exertion is there as well.
With that being the case, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan had an optional practice at Sharks Ice Wednesday afternoon, with a team meeting that brought everyone to the rink.
“It takes its toll,” said McLellan. “That’s why today it’s an optional. The players know their bodies better than we do. They have to be prepared to play the same type of game again and maybe for just as long. It’s about taking care of yourself and knowing when to get your rest.”
“I think both physically and mentally,” said Sharks Captain Rob Blake of the reasons for rest. “There are ups and downs and that is playoff hockey. We always talk about remaining even keel and that allows the body to energize over the days off. As the series goes on, it does wear.”
Even in victories, there is a mental price paid.
“When you go three overtimes out of four games, the flights are later and everything is thrown off a little bit,” said Blake.
“We lost in overtime the other night and it’s tough,” said Pavelski. “You see the emotion both ways after goals are scored. It definitely drains you, so it’s important to get your rest as much as you can and try to stay level win or lose.”
What makes it easier is the Sharks aren’t doing it alone.
“Both teams are in the same situation and we’re coming home to an extremely loud crowd tomorrow,” said Blake.
San Jose will continue to play each game in the same manner as being mentally drained won’t be a problem if they win the series.
“We’ve played a pretty hard style and been on the attack for the most part,” said Pavelski. “We want to take it to the next level and be able to play that way every game. We’ve worked hard for the wins and in the losses we’ve put in a pretty good effort. Today has been a little bit light and we’ll just come prepared tomorrow.”
Even players who have been to the Stanley Cup Finals have a hard time recalling a series that put players through such mental extremes in just four games.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in one with three consecutive overtime games,” said Dan Boyle
. “It just goes to show that one shift can make a difference.”
And with every second of every shift counting, players have to be prepared for 60-plus minutes a night. If a Sharks player had been off just a little bit in Game 4, they could be down 3-1. The same could be said for Colorado in either of their wins. The mental part of the game is critical as will can topple skill if the skill is not ready.
“You don’t want to go down 3-1, you’re aware of it, but you’ve got to play,” said Boyle. “You have to find a way to play and try to win. It’s tough and certainly nerve racking. Especially in the situation we were in. That’s what makes it exciting. It’s tough mentally but you have to be strong and show some resiliency.”
“Down 3-1, history isn’t on your side with that one,” said Pavelski.
Hopefully the Sharks will get a mental pick-me-up when they come out for Game 5 before the ravenous fans at HP Pavilion.
“You can’t have a letdown,” said Boyle. “It’s not going to be any easier. They are going to come out hard. ”
It’s not mandatory to capture Game 5, but it makes it a lot easier to close out a series.
“By definition it’s not a must win, but we’re certainly looking to win the hockey game,” said Boyle.
Pavelski noted his cell phone was a good barometer of how the overtimes go.
“There were quite a few,” said Pavelski of calls and texts after in OT tally. “When the other team scores the game winner you don’t get too many.”
When McLellan says he has a story about a player putting a puck in his own net it is straight from his AHL coaching days.
“Mine is in ’03 when we won the Calder Cup in the American League,” said McLellan. “Ladislav Benysek, a former NHL player, shot it on his forehand in the slot, right by our goaltender in overtime. We went on to win the championship that year.”
The Sharks will host Colorado in Game 5 Thursday at 7:30 and tickets will be released at 1 p.m. at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.