April 28, 2011
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A year ago, the San Jose Sharks faced the Detroit Red Wings without Patrick Marleau, who was engaged in the hobbies of the flu-ridden. They were also without Niclas Wallin (injured), Ian White (trapped in Raleigh), Jamal Mayers (St. Louis) and Kyle Wellwood (Russia).Their philosophy has changed, too. They are indeed a different operation, and it took three months of getting their brains kicked in to understand it.
Now they have to understand it again by denying that their finest playoff moment beating the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs has any shelf life.RELATED: Sharks-Wings Round 2 TV schedule
This will not be as easy as constant repetition of the phrase, Do you remember how much trouble you had with Los Angeles when you had no good reason to? Youd like to think that would matter to the Sharks, but with them, you never can tell.It will also be more difficult given that the Wings still have the same team. They have upgraded their sixth defenseman with veteran Ruslan Salei instead of Andreas Lilja and Jiri Hudler for Drew Miller, but thats pretty much it. Pavel Datsyuk is still Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg is still Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom is still Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom is still Tomas Holmstrom.Oh, there are more subtle differences, to be sure. The Wings will dump and chase more than they used to, they will play the body a bit more, and Lidstrom is more willing to slow a games pace down than he used to I mean, the man is 57 years old, after all.But the Sharks are the Western Conferences most ethereal good team, dominating regular seasons and then making you gnaw your fingers to the second knuckle in the playoffs. When your top moment comes in the second round, you have issues.And the Sharks revivified all those fears by needing six games to take out the Kings. They actually blotted out the three months when they were the best team in the sport with a maddeningly uneven performance, and the questions about their best players in the big ones has extended, at least for the moment, to defenseman Dan Boyle.RELATED: Ratto -- Sharks in need of the real Dan Boyle
In short, this series is about the Sharks rather than the Red Wings. Most observers with the blessings of distance give the Sharks the benefit of underestimation, which actually works to McLellans advantage, but San Jose has something to prove here. In fact, a lot.One, whether they are who they say they are. Detroit had an easier time against a tougher opponent (Phoenix), and that alone makes front-runners look at the Sharks with their usual disdain.Two, whether consistency can still be theirs. San Jose built its rush from 12th to second on being the same team pretty much every night careful in their own end, as comfortable with 3-2 games as 5-2 games. But they have these voices in their heads that tell them, Youre still young, youre still fast, you can win with just your skills, and the voices get louder and more persuasive at the most difficult times.Three, whether they can beat the Red Wings when they are whole and rested. Most folks believe the Wings were vulnerable last year, and they were right. Few people believe that this time, and the Sharks have to prove them wrong by reverting to the slightly duller, slightly more conservative and much more responsible course. They cannot skate with Datsyuk, they cannot match Zetterbergs tirelessness, and they cannot equal Lidstroms calm in the face, of well, anything, and they definitely cannot recreate match the enormity of Holmstroms backside in Antti Niemis line of sight.The Sharks can dictate terms in this series; they have before. But theyll have to do it a different way, and theyll have to be comfortable with that. They cannot pretend to be what they used to be, unless they want to become again what they used to be a team who never failed to fail in the second round.