Monday, April 14, 2008

Can Sharks survive "The Collapse"?

It has become every bit as much of a Sharks postseason ritual as towel waving at the Tank, eliminating the Nashville Predators and heckling Chris Pronger. Call it "the collapse," "the choke job," whatever you want to call it -- but it has become as certain an annual occurrence as Christmas or Veteran's Day. Often, it comes in pairs.

Let's go back to Game 3 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against the Edmonton Oilers. The Sharks were less than five minutes away from rattling off a third consecutive 2-1 victory and gaining an insurmountable stranglehold on the series. Raffi Torres ties it late, Shawn Horcoff scores the game-winner in triple overtime. Game 4 of that same series -- Jonathan Cheechoo scores in the second period to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead and a chance to gain that same record in the series. A little less than thirty-five minutes later and the Sharks are at the wrong end of a 6-3 defeat. They would go on to lose the series in six games.

Flash forward a year to Game 2 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings. Quick goals by Cheechoo and Joe Thornton give the Sharks a great chance of taking a 2-0 series lead headed to San Jose for Game 3. Fat chance. Goals by Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary -- the latter being shorthanded on an egregious turnover by Christian Ehrhoff -- tie the game and Pavel Datsyuk scores the winner with less than two minutes remaining. The Sharks do manage to win Game 3 at HP, however, and are less than forty seconds away from taking a 3-1 series lead into Game 4. Robert Lang with the tying goal, Mathieu Schneider scores in overtime and the Sharks lose the next two games as well to drop that series in six games. Perhaps all of those gut-wrenching, teeth-chipping, eye-gouging losses paled in comparison to the travesty that occurred last night in Calgary.

Hockey is a game of mistakes. Mental errors that lead to mistakes, the opportunism to have opponents make mistakes and the ability to capitalize on opposing mistakes. Blown leads are bound to happen, but it is undeniable that such collapses, particularly in the most critical of situations, have been inextricably ingrained in the franchise's reputation. As painful as Game 3 was to watch, it's not about how you lose the games -- it's about how you respond. Surveying the Sharks' aforementioned postseason track record, there has been no response. The Sharks, especially their best player, whose ill-advised screen of Evgeni Nabokov which allowed Owen Nolan's game-winning goal serves as a microcosm of his invisibility not only during this series, but his playoff career at large, have most definitely been handed a test. This is the same test that they have taken during their last two postseason flameouts and both times they failed. We'll see tomorrow night if they've learned from their mistakes or if all was for naught. If the Sharks can somehow recuperate and manage to win this series, the Stanley Cup is truly theirs to lose. If they flunk their third test, there were no legitimate Cup aspirations to begin with.


GregSJ said...

Very well said

Emily said...

They faced their demons in the Calgary series. Dallas will be tough, but after round 1, I think it will be an easier match.

If we can get Turco off his game it should be no problem taking the Stars down.

Check out my video, it highlights from the last 2 Sharks v. Stars game.