SAN JOSE – There are varying opinions as to whether momentum in a playoff series carries over from game to game. Usully, it’s not worth diving too deeply into the subject.
But after a 7-0 Sharks win in Game 4 over an Edmonton team that lacks playoff experience, it’s fair to contemplate whether the lopsided nature of the victory on Tuesday resonates in a bad way in the Oilers’ dressing room headed into Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 at Rogers Place.
The longer a series goes, the more a team's experience should be able to temper the momentum, both good and bad. The Sharks weren’t gripping their sticks too tightly ahead of Game 4, despite going exactly 120 minutes without a goal, and it showed, especially after captain Joe Pavelski – who missed a wide open net in Game 3 that could have changed the course of the game – got the Sharks the first goal with one of his patented tips just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Sharks also know that just because they won so easily on Tuesday, Game 5 could quickly get away from them if they’re not ready to compete at the same level.
“It’s one win, that’s it,” Logan Couture said. “It’s 2-2, best-of-three left. We’re going to go try and win a game in Edmonton.”
Game 4, though, was the kind of response that tends to come from a veteran team that has seen and been through it all. The situation was strikingly similar to last season’s second round when the Predators outplayed the Sharks pretty thoroughly in Game 6 before San Jose went home and dominated Game 7, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference Final.
Although coach Pete DeBoer has downplayed the importance of the experience factor since before the series began, that could be similar to last season when he did the same in the Sharks-Kings series, rejecting the notion of how much it meant for the Sharks to exorcise those playoff demons from the past – only admitting to it after the Sharks had knocked off their biggest rival.
That's not to say the young Oilers can't rise to the challenge and quickly put their awful performance in Game 4 behind them, of course. If Connor McDavid finally breaks through and puts the team on his back, it wouldn’t be overly surprising. This is still just a hockey game, after all.
There’s a chance, though, that McDavid - who looks to be getting frustrated - and his teammates will still be thinking about everything that went wrong in Game 4. And it was, in fact, everything.
Coach Todd McLellan said after the game that he actually wanted his players to ponder it for a little while.
“I don’t want our players to necessarily forget about it tonight,” McLellan said. “I’d like them to think about it, and think about some of the things that they need to do better. But, we will park the game.”
Somewhere in their minds, though, the Oilers will be aware that if they drop Game 5 at home, their season will be on the brink in Game 6 back in San Jose. After the bloodbath on Tuesday, the last thing they want is to have to go back to the Shark Tank in an elimination game.
Is the pressure back on the Oilers now?
“Maybe. I think we’re used to it over here,” Thornton said. “I’d like to think we can go into there and be confident.”
Joel Ward said: “Hopefully [we can] just carry that momentum for our side. For us, it’s just worry about us. Keep putting on that pressure.”
The pressure was applied by the battle-tested Sharks in Game 4, big time. How the Oilers respond to it for Game 5 could determine the series.