|(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)|
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton celebrate after Marleau scores the game winning goal
in Game Seven of the NHL Playoffs.
The San Jose Sharks have been one of the best teams in the NHL this past decade. In the past they have had great goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov, and great offense lead by Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dany Heatley. They were always in the top three teams in the Western Conference, but could never get over the hump of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Over the off-season, The Sharks let go of their long time goalie, Evgeni Nabakov, and looked to get a younger goalie. Many hockey analyst did not predict the Sharks to have a great season. After signing young goaltender Antti Niemi, who helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup victory since 1960, the Sharks quickly changed those analyst's minds. Could this be the year that the San Jose Sharks go to the Stanley Cup Finals?
At the beginning of the season, it did not look too good. The Sharks found themselves out of the playoffs after ten games. Once the second half of the season started though, the Sharks were the hottest team in the NHL. By the time the playoffs began, the Sharks were ranked second in the Western Conference with 105 points.
The usual stars of Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau all had great seasons as expected with 64,70,73 points respectively. Dan Boyle, the team's best defenseman also had a great season with 50 points, and a +2 ratio. The reason the Sharks were so successful in the regular season though was because of the skaters who aren't as popular as Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau.
Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and rookie Logan Couture all had phenomenal seasons. That second line of Setoguchi, Clowe, and Pavelski combined for 169 points, even with Devin Setoguchi missing ten games. Couture also had a spectacular season with 56 points, and could possibly win the Rookie of the Year Award, which in the NHL is called the Calder Memorial Trophy.
So why have the Sharks have had so much success in this year's playoffs?
Yes, the first line has been producing like expected, but it is the second and third lines that are carrying the Sharks. Ryan Clowe, who even missed a controversial game earlier in the series vs the Red Wings, leads the team in points, with 13. Couture is second on the list followed by Dan Boyle. Patrick Marleau who lead the team in points during the regular was missing in action early in the playoffs, but has come back strong in this series vs the Red Wings, and even gave the Sharks the winning goal in Game Seven to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Like many expected,the Sharks took care of the Kings, despite having three games going to OT. Overtime games in the NHL playoffs this season have been very common with almost every other game going to OT.
In the next round the Sharks looked like they would finish the Red Wings off easily getting off to a 3-0 series lead. Clowe then got injured, and the Sharks were outshot badly by almost fifteen shots in the next three games, and before you know it, the series was tied up 3-3.
Detroit had all the momentum despite having Game Seven being played in San Jose. Still, when the Sharks needed it most, Marleau stepped up.
The Sharks got off to an early 2-0 lead but the Red Wings narrowed it down to one goal after Henrik Zetterberg scored the only goal of the second period.
After numerous saves by Antti Niemi, who was very clutch in Game Seven, Patrick Marleau finally found the back of the net. With eight minutes to play in the third and final period, Marleau gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead. The Red Wings would go on to answer a minute later, but it wouldn't be enough.
Niemi would go on to save 38 of 40 total shots and have a save percentage of 95%. With the Sharks facing off against the NHL's best team, the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Finals, will this be the year that the Sharks are finally hungry enough to eat their prey? We know the power line in Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau will show, but if the Sharks want to be able to stay close with the Sedin Brothers and Ryan Kesler, they need their second and third lines to come up clutch in this upcoming series.