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Sportsmanship Practiced Here

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
After the Sharks finished celebrating Joe Thornton’s overtime series-winner in Monday night’s Game 6 against Los Angeles, emotions were quickly stifled for the traditional handshake. A lot of things are said and done during a best-of-seven series, but the handshake puts those disagreements in perspective and is a long-standing National Hockey League custom.

San Jose Sharks center Scott Nichol, left, falls as he works against Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez for the puck during the first period of Game 6 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
“I think that’s what our sport is all about,” Scott Nichol said. “It looks like we’re battling for every inch and we are. But at the end of day, it’s about how much respect you have for your opponent and how hard they battled.”

There’s not a lot of 1-on-1 time for the combatants, but there are a few words spoken as the players move on to the next member in the opposite sweater.

“It’s great to look the guys in the eye and shake their hand and they tell you good luck and keep going,” Nichol said. “You tell them how great the series was and that it could have gone either way. That’s what’s so special about our sport.”

“It’s congrats and go get them. That’s the small talk you have,” Niclas Wallin said.

While many television viewers and fans will see the post-series handshake line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the tradition is carried on throughout hockey – from youth level to adult recreational league.

“I remember in minor hockey shaking hands,” Nichol said. “I think it’s a very classy move in our sport.”

The postgame handshake is also done outside of North America.

“When I was younger, we shook hands after each game,” Sweden’s Douglas Murray said.

“Back home, there are handshakes after regular season games,” the Swedish-born Wallin said.

For as much as everyone enjoys the postgame ritual, it’s even more enjoyable when your team has won.

“You always want to be on the right side of the handshake,” Nichol said. “It’s so much better. Everyone is sore, they bled and it’s so stressful.”

The pure joy one side is feeling and the dejection of the other are quickly put aside for a brief moment.

“You’re not showboating at all during the handshake,” Nichol said. “You check your emotions when you go through. Hockey players are pretty humble.”

The handshake is the formal ending to the series and then it’s time to focus on the next round.

“After we shook the hands of L.A., we came back in and were focused on the next task,” Nichol said. “Our goal is the Stanley Cup. That was just one of the stepping stones to get to where we want to go. It’s a great ending point for a series. It’s a good battle and you shake hands.”

There’s two Game 7s (Buffalo at Philadelphia and Chicago at Vancouver, which is on at 7 p.m. on Versus) and a possible series-ender (Game 6 between Montreal and Boston) on tonight's schedule. You can be sure the Sharks players will be glued to the set.

“We’re players, but we’re also huge hockey fans,” Nichol said. “Anytime there’s a hockey game on, it will be on in the house somewhere.”

“I’m definitely going to watch hockey, both games,” Wallin said. “I love hockey and I think there’s nothing like a Game 7. It will be interesting to see.”

If Chicago beats Vancouver, the Sharks will face the Blackhawks in a repeat of last year’s Western Conference Final. Should the Canucks win, it will be a replay of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals between San Jose and Detroit.

All of the attention (and rightfully so) will be on Thornton’s series-winning goal. But the drama leading up to the goal set up the happy ending for San Jose. The Sharks needed the final 3:23 of regulation and the first 1:37 of overtime to kill off Jamie McGinn’s major penalty. In addition, if the Kings would’ve scored in regulation, the nature of the penalty would’ve kept the Sharks on the penalty kill for the balance of the third period.

“Even if they would’ve scored in regulation, we still would’ve been a man down and it would’ve been tough to get that equalizer,” Murray said.

In addition to topping the Kings power play (and likely saving the game) for five consecutive minutes, the kill put momentum on San Jose’s side.

“Every play is important,” Murray said. “I think the penalty kill was huge. We knew if we killed that one off, we were going to have momentum on our side. We knew they could’ve closed out the game.”

Wallin said there are some aspects of an extended power play that can play into the hands of the shorthanded club.

“I think sometimes when you get a long power play like that, it can be to the killer’s advantage too,” Wallin said. “A lot of times the other team thinks they have so much time. The guys did a good job blocking shots and Nemo (Antti Niemi) made some saves.”

A big advantage for the Sharks was killing off the penalty in regulation, taking a break and having a short time at the beginning of overtime to finish the job.

“We had the break and only a minute-and-a-half to kill after that,” Wallin said. “We’ve been good in overtimes and kept our focus.”

Special teams can play a big role in postseason play. Last night, the Sharks squashed a four-minute power play (Thornton’s high-stick in the first period) and McGinn’s major for charging Brad Richardson. Two very successful (and key) penalty kills can help the Sharks as they advance.

“It’s huge and hopefully we can build on it going forward and to get more confidence in our penalty kill,” Wallin said.

“Our stats don’t show it, but I think we’ve gotten better with our kill,” Murray said of the Sharks, who finished the regular season ranked 24th and are eighth among the 16 teams in the postseason tournament. “I felt confident that we could kill it off and we did. It helped to get that (intermission) break to separate it. We collected ourselves and rested the guys that were out for the kill.”

For as dangerous as the five minutes were, Murray said it could have been worse.

“At least it wasn’t 5-on-3,” Murray said.

Many of the players showed up at the Sharks Ice practice facility, but there was no ice (in terms of skating) for any players.

“Today’s a good rest day and we’ll get back to work tomorrow,” Wallin said. “We had a day off today and everybody is here. It’s good to see the boys smiling.”

While the Sharks will resume practicing tomorrow, please remember that any sessions during the postseason are not open to the public.

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