HOCKEY: Sharks have another opportunity to dispel perceptions


The San Jose Sharks won’t be hockey’s lovable losers if they
keep winning in dramatic fashion as they did against Detroit. Right
now, they’re not feeling much love anyway.
— Column by Cam Inman, Contra Costa Times

The San Jose Sharks won’t be hockey’s lovable losers if they keep winning in dramatic fashion as they did against Detroit. Right now, they’re not feeling much love anyway.

“A lot of people want to see the Sharks lose,” defenseman Dan Boyle said, “and we need to rally around that.”

Added center Logan Couture: “I’m sure everyone in North America wanted to see Detroit win, except for San Jose Sharks fans. Obviously (Detroit) had a chance to complete a historic comeback. I don’t know if anyone was cheering for us.”

Cue up the us-against-the-world routine frequently used by teams in the playoffs.

It worked for the Sharks against Detroit as they rallied around embattled Patrick Marleau and celebrated his Game 7-winning goal.

But can the Sharks sustain that mindset? Can they carry that across the border into Vancouver for their second straight appearance in the Western Conference finals?

The Sharks haven’t been a polarizing franchise in their 20 seasons, not even close. Instead, they’ve drawn more pity than fury. They’re treated like a cute sideshow until the serious teams step up in mid-May.

If a change in perception leads to a brighter conclusion, please proceed.

The Sharks won’t lack for underdog stature in the conference finals. Although they finished behind only the Canucks in the Western Conference regular-season standings, the Sharks are best-known for never having made it past this round.

“It’ll be interesting. We’ll be entering a series as an underdog, and that hasn’t happened before,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Maybe it’ll take some pressure off and we can play carefree.”

The pressure can’t get greater than it was Thursday night at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks faced the prospect of becoming only the fourth team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their response: A 3-2 win in only the second Game 7 ever in San Jose.

“A lot of people didn’t want us to win,” Boyle said. “Detroit has got their little aura — whatever the word is. I’m sure a lot of the hockey world wanted to see Detroit come back, take the series and get in the final four.”

Added McLellan: “The casual fan would like to see the comeback and we were aware of it, but we did a good job of eliminating that from our mindset.”

McLellan doesn’t think the “us-against-the-world” mantra existed until Game 7. But Marleau noted: “We’ve talked about that for a while. We have a group here that’s going to stick together and keep playing our best hockey moving forward.”

— Ho-hum, another series victory for goaltender Antti Niemi. Well, not quite. “This was a special series, for sure,” said Niemi, who has never lost a playoff series in goal; he’s 6-0 dating back to last season’s Stanley Cup run with Chicago.

“It’s only going to get harder,” Niemi said. “(The Canucks) for sure are going to come hard from the start.”

Niemi helped turn back Vancouver in the conference semifinals last season, as Chicago advanced with a Game 6 road win.

“He was great all series long,” Marleau said of Niemi’s play against Detroit. “We could have done a better job giving him more help back there. But he’s doing it all, and we’re going to need that moving forward. ”

— Goaltender Jimmy Howard stood in a quiet corridor outside Detroit’s dressing room and answered one final question: What does he think of the Sharks’ chances? “Vancouver is going to have their hands full,” Howard replied. “The Sharks have a great goalie, a great top six and great lines that can score for them.”

— Couture made a phenomenal play to score in his fourth consecutive game. But stealing the puck from Henrik Zetterberg and sniping home a shot for a 2-0 lead didn’t make Couture’s jaw drop. “He just gave it to me. I don’t even know if you can say that was a steal,” Couture said. “He turned it over, it was on my stick and I was able to shoot it.” Yes, life can seem simple when you’re 22.

— Call it the most defining group hug in Sharks history: Marleau scored the eventual game-winner after three teammates sent the puck up ice and into the crease for his gimmie putt. Joe Thornton was the first to greet Marleau in the left faceoff circle, then Devin Setoguchi, Douglas Murray and Boyle. What went on in that huddle? “We were just congratulating each other,” Marleau said smiling.

“Everyone in this room knows what was said about him, and we all disagree,” Couture said, referencing the “gutless” tag hung on Marleau by former teammate and Versus commentator Jeremy Roenick. “We see what Patty does every day and how hard he works. The media doesn’t see that. . . . He’s a great teammate, a great role model. I look up to him a lot. I was happy for him.”

North America just called. It’s not happy.

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