SAN JOSE — Despite jumping out of the gates on home ice during Friday night’s game three, the San Jose Sharks were searching for answers to why game four was nearly a 180 degree switch. Losing to the Vancouver Canucks by a 4-2 final on Sunday afternoon, the Sharks now head back across the northern border needing to win three straight games to advance to their first Western Conference final as the Canucks now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Unlike the previous game, the Sharks looked sluggish, couldn’t execute on the power-play and three straight 5-on-3 goals by the Canucks (scored in a span of 1:55) in the middle of the second period put the game essentially out of reach for San Jose.
The Sharks opened the game with five straight power-play opportunities through the early part of the second period but couldn’t convert on a single one of them. A few minutes later, the Canucks went on their first power-play of the game when Dany Heatley took a minor for high-sticking. San Jose then took three more penalties in quick succession and Vancouver capitalized with a goal from Ryan Kesler and two from Sami Salo, all on one-time slap shots.
“Disappointed, myself included, we had too many passengers tonight,” Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell stated, whose hooking minor gave Vancouver their first 5-on-3 advantage.
Mitchell also acknowledged the failure of the Sharks’ ability to convert on the man advantage and that sooner or later the Canucks would be skating up a player instead of down one.
“You get three, four in a row there, there is going to be a point in the game where it’s going to be your turn,” he said, “and we didn’t get it done”
Obviously the special teams play ended up as the decisive factor in the loss but outside that stretch of three in a row, the Sharks did out-score Vancouver five-on-five by a 2-1 margin. The fourth line for San Jose once again played well and rookie center Andrew Desjardins picked up one of the Sharks’ two goals in the final period.
Can the Sharks take anything away from that even strength play moving forward into Game 5?
“Yeah I think so,” commented Desjardins–whose goal was his first career postseason tally. “[But, we have to] move on, refocus…it’s unfortunate the three 5-on-3′s and they score on all of them. Just got to refocus for the next game.”
Overall however, the even strength play certainly wasn’t great from either side on Sunday and outside the Shark fourth line, there wasn’t much consistent quality play from any of the eight combined forward trios.
“We just weren’t sharp,” Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan of his team. (A reporter asked whether that was due to physical or mental issues)
“I wish I had the answer,” McLellan responded. “The passing was off. The receiving was off. There wasn’t much rhythm. I have to believe some of that is mental, some of it’s physical, a combination of both.”
And why was the start to the game not nearly as strong as the previous one?
“I don’t have the answer for that,” the coach added.
The problem for the Sharks is it wasn’t as if the Canucks brought their top performance on the other side of the ice. Vancouver gave an equally unimpressive performance outside of scoring three times up two men and a nifty 2-on-1 goal set up by Henrik Sedin and tapped home by Alexandre Burrows.
Leading the series, playing on the road without their choice of line matchups, and without two defenseman in Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome, it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see Vancouver give a mediocre performance but the Sharks should have been more desperate. Captain Joe Thornton missed the last few minutes with an apparent upper-body injury but for the majority of the game the Sharks were completely healthy and had plenty going for them in a chance to tie the series.
Even though Desjardins and Ryane Clowe tallied third period goals to cut a 4-0 deficit in half, the increased level of play from San Jose in the third was just too little too late.
Once again, failing to execute from start to finish has caused the Sharks to fall into this 3-1 hole. In order to get out of it and move onto the final, they are certainly going to need better efforts from everyone in the dressing room but from one player in particular.
Heatley has just one point in the series (an assist in game two) and has scored just three goals in 17 playoff games despite being a two-time 50 goal scorer in the league.
“Well, Dany Heatley, like a lot of our players, we expect a little bit more from,” said McLellan. “I think he has to find a way to put himself in better position on the ice to score. We’ll get that from him in Game 5.”
The Sharks can certainly win without getting a goal from their All-Star winger, but lighting the lamp would go a long way in helping the Sharks extend their season to another game.
Otherwise, San Jose might be cleaning out its lockers.