Yet, as he almost always does, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
slid under the radar, despite being paired with Blake and helping shutdown Detroit’s talented Pavel Datsyuk line. It’s par for the course for the 23-year-old Quebec product who’s mature well beyond his years.
“It’s interesting with him when we talk about age,” Head Coach McLellan said. “He’s spent four years in the National Hockey League already and he’s a very mature player. We’re reaping the benefits.”
The headlines may never be there, but that isn’t an issue with the Vlasic or his teammates.
“There are certain guys that get more headlines than others, but he’s one of those guys that doesn’t get anywhere near the credit for what he does out there,” Boyle said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it is. Some guys don’t get appreciated for what they bring.”
At least externally.
“At the end of the day, as long as the guys in the locker room and the management appreciate your game,” Boyle said, “you’ve got to be happy with that.”
Hopefully, everyone will appreciate Vlasic’s efforts as the Sharks enter the Western Conference Finals against Chicago. Vlasic will be facing the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien. Like any professional, Vlasic enjoys the challenges presented to him by McLellan and the coaching staff and they will be even bigger against the Blackhawks.
“In the first round it was (Colorado’s Matt) Duchesne, the second round Datsyuk,” Vlasic said. “That was a great challenge for me. I love playing against the best players. That makes me even better. The next round will be even harder. They’ve got a lot of skill, but Blakey and I are up for that.”
“It’s impressive, but it’s been going on for years, so you’re kind of used to it,” said Torrey Mitchell
, who’s Vlasic’s roommate on the road. “We need him to shut down those top guys and he knows it.”
Like a fine wine, Vlasic will likely keep improving with age.
“Most people make the NHL around 22 or 23, I’ve been here four years,” Vlasic said. “There are expectations and I’m well aware of that. I have high expectations for myself. I want to be better and win every year.”
Vlasic isn’t just a player on the ice, but he’s becoming a leader in the room.
“As much as Blakey, Jumbo (Joe Thornton
), Patty (Patrick Marleau
) or Boyler, he’s an influence leader-wise,” said rookie Jason Demers
, who trains with Vlasic in the summer. “He’s a lead by example guy and he’s been like that for us all year. Even watching him playing in junior, we called him ‘The Robot’ because he never seemed to make a mistake. He’s a great guy to learn from.”
Vlasic enjoys the teaching role with Demers, despite being about the same age as his student.
“Demers is coming up now and we’re both from the same place,” said Vlasic, who’s from Montreal. “It’s not like taking him under my wing, but I know what it’s like with the playoffs. I have to show him and the young guys how it’s done on-and-off the ice.”
Upon looking at Vlasic, it’s easy to think of him as a rookie or first-year player instead of an experienced player on one of the NHL’s premier clubs.
“At times when I look at him, I don’t even think about it,” Demers said. “Then you look at the games that he has played and the experience he has. You forget because of how young he is.”
Physically, Vlasic is strong and quicker than most give him credit for and his physical play has picked up in the postseason. Vlasic averaged less than a hit a game in the regular season. In 11 playoff games, he’s averaging two per game.
“He’s been extremely physical in the playoffs,” Demers said. “I was joking with him the last series saying he passed his hits in the season in these playoffs.”
Vlasic hopes to follow in the footsteps of Blake when it comes to thinking like an elder statesman, but bringing young thoughts to the rink.
“I do want to stay young,” Vlasic said. “Blakey is still young at 40.”
BEEN HERE BEFORE
San Jose has just Patrick Marleau
and Evgeni Nabokov remaining from the 2004 Western Conference Final team, while most of Chicago’s players were in last year’s Western Conference Finals.
“They’ve been in the situation and know what goes with it, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have been in a similar type of spot,” Blake said. “Once the series starts, it’s pretty even.”
Sharks players in addition to Marleau, Nabokov and Blake who have played this deep into the playoffs include Boyle, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin and Dany Heatley.
ONCE UPON A HAWK
Scott Nichol is the lone Sharks player who spent time in Chicago as a player (2003-04) and he relishes his time there even though the club was far from what it is today.
“It was my first two-way contract and we really enjoyed it there,” Nichol said. “I played a lot and Brian Sutter was the coach. It was the first time I ever had a one-way contract. We weren’t very good when I was there, but you could tell there was a passion in the city from everyone wearing Blackhawks hats to jerseys to coats. They were just waiting for a winning team. They’ve got it going and it’s a loud and great place to play.”
Assistant Coach Trent Yawney was Chicago’s head coach in 2005-07, in addition to playing for the club, and his family still lives in the area.
“Anybody that has ever visited Chicago knows what a great city it is,” Yawney said. “That’s a place that my wife and I wanted to raise our kids. The schooling is great and the kids really enjoyed it. Playing there and coaching there was icing on the cake. It’s a fantastic city.”
Television Play-by-Play man Randy Hahn will be filling in as the host on “Chronicle Live” Friday on CSN Bay Area.
Comcast SportsNet California, the home of the “Authentic Bay Area Sports,” delivered its highest San Jose Sharks rating ever last Saturday (May 8) – a 6.57 household rating for its exclusive live coverage of the Sharks Game Five second round-clinching victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The previous high was Game Six of the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Stars, which posted a 5.9 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (May 4, 2008).
The Sharks-Red Wings Game Five attracted approximately 164,250 households for the entire game and scored a 9.14 peak rating from 9:15 – 9:30 p.m. (more than 229,000 households). “Sharks Postgame Live” registered its highest rating ever with a 3.06 (more than 77,000 households).
IN SEARCH OF…
As the Sharks skate to the best regular season record in the Western Conference and into the Conference Finals, Comcast SportsNet California, the home of “Authentic Bay Area Sports,” takes a look at the Sharks amazing journey towards Lord Stanley’s Cup with the half-hour special “In Search of Hockey’s Holy Grail,” debuting May 15 at 9:30 p.m. Visit CSNCalifornia.com for additional air dates and times.
“In Search of Hockey’s Holy Grail” examines from the Sharks perspective what it takes, mentally and physically, to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs towards winning hockey's Holy Grail. The program features interviews with Joe Thornton
, Joe Pavelski
, Evgeni Nabokov, Dan Boyle
, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and Coach Todd McLellan in which they discuss how they overcame adversity and challenges to achieve their hard fought playoff victories over the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings. They also talk about how the team is handling the pressure as it ventures deeper into the playoffs and what the Sharks have to do to advance further to win hockey's most coveted prize.
“In Search of Hockey’s Holy Grail” is hosted by Brodie Brazil and features Comcast SportsNet’s anchor/reporter Scott Reiss. Sharks Television Color Analyst Drew Remenda and Sharks Radio Color Analyst Jamie Baker also lend their expertise to the show.
Game One of the Western Conference Finals between Chicago and San Jose will be at Noon on Sunday and will be on NBC, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.