First of all, give thanks to the hockey gods for a heartwarming game on a chilly February night. On a night when Patrick Marleau was honored in front of the HP Pavilion crowd for playing in 1,000 career games, he nets the shorthanded game-winning goal, punctuating a remarkable comeback as the San Jose Sharks rallied to defeat the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-3. As if that wasn’t enough, backup goaltender Alex Stalock wins his NHL debut in a relief appearance, stopping each shot he faces. Now that’s clutch, something the Sharks have not been this season, or even this decade.
The two most obvious storylines are inspirational enough, but how about Joe Pavelski scoring his first goal in 15 games in the waning seconds of the second period, then potting another early in the third period to get the comeback train rolling down the track? Or Kyle Wellwood, who has sloppy feet but surgical hands, scoring the equalizer and blowing the roof off the Shark Tank? It was a spectacular game, regardless of who you were rooting for or where your allegiances lie, and it proved exactly how well (or how poorly) the Sharks can play when they want to (or don’t).
From day one, I’ve always said that I don’t care if the San Jose Sharks win or lose during the regular season. Since the lockout, their playoff participation has been virtually guaranteed, so the main focus has been how well they play, making improvements and addressing needs over the course of the 82 games. Of course, everything changes once the playoffs begin. During the postseason, I don’t care if they barf all over themselves or play John McCarthy on the penalty kill, as long as they win the game and keep the season going.
That’s all changed this season. Coming into tonight, with 32 games remaining and every point critical in the Western Conference playoff race, the Sharks have entered playoff mode two-and-a-half months early. As such, it doesn’t make any difference that the defense has bigger holes than Ted Nolan’s NHL resume, and nobody cares that McCarthy is manning the penalty kill, as long as the wins keep coming and the points pile up. Congratulations Sharks, you’ve earned the leniency that comes when winning, literally, is the only thing that matters.
Given the current situation, after games like Tuesday night’s we all revert back to casual fans. We don’t lament the fact that the first 40 minutes were a nightmare, and we don’t look to diagnose the issues that will culminate in another premature playoff exit, we just enjoy the night for what it was, a hell of a comeback and two points in the standings. It’s a lot easier to watch the game this way, and it makes the ride a lot more interesting when the team displays both its glaring shortcomings and limitless potential, all over the span of 60 thrilling minutes.
San Jose has now won five of its last six, collecting 11 of 12 possible points during that stretch. What could the Sharks possibly do for an encore on Wednesday night? Kicking off their mammoth seven-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks – another Pacific Division rival they’re hunting down – they don’t have to play the perfect game or demonstrate the consistency that true Shark fans have craved for the past four months, they simply have to win the game. It’s not the ideal situation, but with playoff mode in full swing at 31 games and counting, it sure is a lot of fun.
Hop aboard the bandwagon and hold on tight for some firewagon hockey, because the race to the playoffs has officially begun and the SharksBuzz Postgame Show is both your map and your compass. We’ll be going live as soon as the final buzzer sounds at the Honda Center, taking your toll-free calls at (724) 444-7444, talkcast ID# 74909. I hope you enjoyed Tuesday’s game as much as I did, and feel free to join us after Wednesday’s.