Sharks fight to keep season alive in Game 5

Sharks fight to keep season alive in Game 5

May 24, 2011

SHARKS (1-3) vs.

Coverage begins at 6 P.M. on Versus

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Sami Salo waited 12 seasons, and endured countless injuries for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

One win from his first Cup finals, the Vancouver Canucks' defenseman doesn't want to wait any longer.

With a 3-1 lead over San Jose in the Western Conference finals heading into Game 5 Tuesday, Salo knows how important it is for the Canucks to finish off the Sharks fast. It's something they failed to do against their opponents in Game 5 at home in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

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"We noticed from series past we have to have the killer instinct to finish the other team off," Salo said one day after scoring two 5-on-3 goals in Sunday's 4-2 win at San Jose. "Otherwise it will give them momentum and too many chances."

The 36-year-old Salo also knows his team has a chance that doesn't come around often. He started his career in Ottawa, but was traded to the Canucks long before the Senators made their lone Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2007. The hard-shooting Finnish defender became a punch line after more than 40 career injuries included a snakebite and a pulled butt muscle. He then tore his Achilles' tendon playing floorball last summer.

After undergoing surgery, Salo missed the first 4 12 months of the season.

"It's been a long journey, not just in a career way, but the whole year with things that happened," Salo said. "All the blood and sweat you poured during the season has paid off."

Salo was injured again in Game 6 of the opening round after Vancouver failed to finish off Chicago in five games, then had to watch as the Canucks survived overtime in Game 7 to advance. He was back for the final three games of the conference semifinals against Nashville, and again Vancouver failed to end things on home ice against the Predators, forcing another long road trip.

"They say the fourth win is the toughest one to get and that's been the case for us," said captain Henrik Sedin, adding the team has learned from the previous failures. "The other team is for sure treating it as a Game 7 and if you are not doing it yourself, it's tough to win those games."

VIDEO: Versus' Roenick and Jones preview Game 5

Against Nashville, that meant two more long flights, and two fewer days off for Henrik, who labored against the Predators. He was criticized after combining with brother Daniel Sedin for seven points and a minus-10 rating. But after six days off, the twins already have 15 points against San Jose.

"That was key," said Henrik, who never admitted to an injury but took two extra days off even after teammates returned to practice. "Get off the ice, recharge and get ready for the next series."

Henrik stressed that wasn't the only reason to try to finish off a talented Sharks team that was second in the Western Conference during the regular season. As the playoffs become physical, the Canucks have already lost two defensemen to hits by San Jose's big forwards.

One of them, Christian Ehrhoff, took part in an optional practice Monday but refused to speculate on his status, saying only that he was day-to-day after a hit by Jamie McGinn in Game 3. Aaron Rome, who was also knocked out of Game 3 by McGinn, didn't skate and isn't expected to play.

Asked if he would be playing if it was Game 7, Ehrhoff said, "It is kind of. ... In the playoffs, every game is like a Game 7."

The Sharks didn't promise to treat Tuesday's contest like a Game 7, but defenseman Dan Boyle liked their chances of forcing one if they can get the series back to San Jose for Game 6 on Thursday.

"We're going there to win a game and we like our chances coming back here so it's going to come down to seven games," Boyle said before the Sharks flew up to Vancouver Monday afternoon. "That's the thought process right now."

Coach Todd McLellan said captain Joe Thornton will play despite being knocked out of Game 4 by Raffi Torres and not taking part in an optional skate Monday. Defenseman Jason Demers, out the first four games with an undisclosed injury, said it was up to the coach if he returns.

RELATED: Playing hurt part of the job for Thornton

No matter who plays, the Sharks know they have to stay out of the penalty after giving up three 5-on-3 goals in 1:55 Sunday, and be better when the Canucks take penalties after failing to convert the game's first five power plays. If not, the Sharks could soon face a second straight summer of questions about coming so close to the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

"You want it more than anything," said Patrick Marleau, who has played all of his 13 seasons in San Jose. "It is hard to put into words, but it means everything basically."

Salo agrees. And he doesn't want to wait much longer for it.

Rewind: Opener brings painful reminder nothing's given for Warriors

Rewind: Opener brings painful reminder nothing's given for Warriors

OAKLAND – Kevin Durant drove to Oracle Arena for his Warriors debut Tuesday night, walked in feeling good and quickly got quite the horrific surprise.

The San Antonio Spurs started knocking on the door to the place and didn’t stop until they owned it.

The Spurs barged in and took what they wanted, everything from points and rebounds to wine and shaving cream. And the Warriors, as if bound and gagged, mostly watched helplessly in taking a 129-100 beating.

“A nice little slap in the face,” Steph Curry summarized.

“We got punched in the mouth,” Draymond Green acknowledged before adding the real takeaway line, “which I don’t know if it was quite a bad thing for us.”

This brutal flogging ends talk of a historically great start resembling that which the Warriors managed last season in winning their first 24 games. This puts to rest any cloak of invincibility for which they might have been being fitted, whether in their minds of those of their fans.

The Warriors were mugged on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 54-35, with San Antonio snatching 21 on offense and turning them into 26-4 advantage in second-chance points. The bigger, slower Spurs even outscored the Warriors 24-20 on the fast break.

“I’m sure we’ll be motivated for our next game,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I think our guys were embarrassed. I know I was.”

If embarrassing seems a bit strong, this surely was nothing less than a night of utter public humility. The curtain came up on opening night and there was CEO Joe Lacob shifting and twisting in his courtside seat, like a man getting teeth extracted without anesthesia, watching his Dream Team was destroyed.

“I didn’t have them ready to play, obviously,” Kerr said.

“The first game, you want to come out and protect your home court with the energy of the home opener to live throughout the game,” Curry said. “And we didn’t do anything to let that happen.”

Curry's numbers were not awful, at least not in the grand scheme of things. He posted 26 points, four assists and three rebounds – but added four turnovers.

And Durant, who started the game 4-of-4, delighting a crowd that had visions of 3-pointers raining from above, also submitted a glossy stat line, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

But the Warriors were dragged across their own floor. Oracle Arena has been their sanctuary for two full seasons, during which they posted a 78-4 record.

The best they can do now is 40-1.

“No one is satisfied with the way they played tonight, especially myself,” said Klay Thompson, who scored 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. “In the long run, this will benefit us. It’s a long season, and not everything is going to be perfect from the jump.”

So, no, the season is not over. Not even close. Remember, LeBron James’ debut with the Miami Heat six years ago ended with an 88-80 loss, followed by seven more losses in the next 16 games.

But it’s always alarming when someone storms into your house, looks you in the eye and takes what they want.

Opening night for the Warriors delivered a painful reminder that regardless of how imposing they might be or how many All-Stars are on the payroll, nothing will be given. Effort and desire, as they discovered, can be more than a great equalizer.

The Warriors now know that victory is not preordained, that if they want the glory and the spoils they believe to be theirs, they will have to prove it. Every night.

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.

Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.

For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.

“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away. 

Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”

The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.

DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.

“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”

Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”

DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.

“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”

Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.

Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.

Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.

“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.

Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.

“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."

San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.

“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”

The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.

Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.

“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”

Especially the finish.