WEAVER: Sharks’ playoff tenacity a welcomed sight

Sharks

Instead of taking the first

punch

with no response, the Sharks are dealing the initial blow and
then some. It’s a welcomed sight, indeed.
The San Jose have finally grown some … playoff bravado.

Instead of taking the first “punch” with no response, the Sharks are dealing the initial blow and then some. It’s a welcomed sight, indeed.

Acting more and more like the instigators instead of the victims in building a 3-0 Western Conference Semifinals series lead over the Detroit Red Wings, the Sharks have an edge to their play rarely recognizable during the last handful of playoff appearances of years past.

Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3 was a gritty and resilient effort. It came one year to the day Patrick Marleau scored the overtime winner against the Wings in last season’s second round. Devin Setoguchi, this time, with his third goal of the evening, propelled the Sharks to a commanding series lead.

A noticeable difference this season – gumption.

Last season’s disturbing sweep in the Western Conference finals by eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago left one single lasting impression on the 2009-10 Sharks: They were soft.

Too much finesse and not enough gruff. Looking meager, they were chased off the ice by a much more powerful Blackhawks bunch.

Five of seven wins in overtime this postseason – the ultimate sign of fearlessness. That timidness, the unsuredness no longer exists.

Going against a loaded Detroit team with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom Danny Cleary and so on, it’s best not to sit back and let those stalwarts dictate play. Wait around and get burned – it’s a given. And it hasn’t happened.

Their aggressiveness in the offensive zone in front of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard – finishing checks, neutral-zone play and a re-focused and concerted effort to play defense – have added up to a confident-looking team. Even as Game 3 looked like a loss, the Sharks grinded away.

It’s a different vibe and I’m

diggin’ it.

There is a well-roundedness to this year’s squad. Players like Logan Couture, Kyle Wellwood, a healthy Torrey Mitchell, Jason Demers, Niclas Wallin and Ian White add depth where San Jose’s roster once lacked. The contributions up and down the lineup has taken the pressure off of San Jose’s top two lines, which in turn have opened up an already potent attack. Marleau, Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are having solid postseasons so far, and they have the rest of their teammates to thank.

Thornton is having his best postseason as a member of the Sharks and his magical assist to Setoguchi on Wednesday was spine-tingling. Jumbo Joe is coming up big when he needs to.

Antti Niemi, who looked uncomfortable during Round 1 against the Los Angeles Kings, has returned to his playoff form of a year ago when he helped the Blackhawks to their title. Throughout the first three games versus Detroit of the semifinals, Niemi has turned aside 90 of 95 shots and heavy rebounds are less frequent. Niemi kept the Sharks afloat late in Game 3, especially in overtime, stoning a Nicklas Lidstrom shot on his doorstep.

Game 4 in Detroit on tonight will serve as a gauge as to how the rest of the postseason pans out. With a chance to sweep, there is no reason for the Sharks to play any different – as the relentless aggressor, the bully. San Jose was blown out in Game 4 last year. Wednesday’s overtime thriller brought about deja vu. Tonight’s Game 4 won’t.

It’s difficult to jump ahead one month and say the Sharks will hoist the Stanley Cup. But I have a similar feeling in my gut than the one that kept churning during the San Francisco Giants’ World Series run last October. That, anything you can do, we can do better mantra

I’m looking forward to a parade.

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