These Sharks aren't folding just yet
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Two games ago, in the aftermath of Dan Boyle's own-goal that had the hockey world all gaga, 99.9 percent of people in and around the NHL had one singular thought: The San Jose Sharks are finding new ways to self-destruct in the spring.
Like a car accident on the freeway, you couldn't help but slow down and watch, yet you got that sick feeling when you sneaked a peek. That's what it felt like watching that own-goal Sunday night. "Oh no, not again."
It would have surprised no one outside the Sharks' dressing room if the top-seeded team in the West had folded like a house of cards at that point and booked their usual tee times, allowing the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche to follow in Anaheim's eighth-seeded footsteps from last season.
And yet, that's where it got interesting for this edition of the Sharks. They didn't fold; they rallied.
"Leadership," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Thursday after his team took a 3-2 series lead over the Colorado Avalanche with a 5-0 win. "I think the leaders in the locker room kept everything calm when we could have been riled up. There was real good leadership there."
It began when Boyle himself scored 74 seconds into Game 4 to set the tone en route to a 2-1 overtime victory, which tied the series.
"I was really glad Danny Boyle scored that goal," McLellan said. "If you could pick anybody, you would want Danny Boyle to score that goal so he could leave it behind him. And then, three and half hours later, Nabby [goalie Evgeni Nabokov] gets the win.
"We did put those demons, if you will, behind us that night. I don't hear anybody in our locker room talking about it anymore. I think we've moved on and we needed to."
Don't underestimate Boyle's early goal in Game 4. It's a moment that changed this series. What it told this reporter was that Boyle had the mental toughness to overcome an all-time YouTube moment and come back even stronger the next night out. It's as if he was telling his Sharks teammates: "It's OK, boys I'm all good. You guys follow me, and we'll get this done."
"No one was worried about him," winger Devin Setoguchi said. "I said the next day that the last person you have to worry about is Dan Boyle. The guy has won a Stanley Cup, he's won an Olympic gold medal, he's a great leader to our team. And for him to come out and step up like that and score 74 seconds into that game, it gave us a momentum boost and told us that he was ready to go and he was focused."
The momentum in the series was irrevocable after that. On Thursday night, the Sharks picked apart the overwhelmed Avalanche like it was toy time, a Game 5 victory that leaves San Jose one win away from its first second-round berth in two years with Game 6 on tap Saturday night in Denver.
The youthful Avs have been game in this series. They're full marks for pushing the top seeds to a six- or seven-game series. But on Thursday night, it just felt like the challenger was starting to wobble as the heavyweight favorite landed a few hard body shots.
"I feel we got what we deserved tonight," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "We didn't play well for 60 minutes."
The Avs, to be honest, looked dog-tired out there.
"This is playoff hockey here. You shouldn't be tired. You should be re-energized," Sacco said.
Perhaps the Avs will be buoyed by San Jose's Game 6 history. The Sharks are 2-13 all-time in sixth games.
But that's the kind of history this edition of the Sharks is trying hard to erase. Leading the way has been Joe Pavelski and his so-called "second line" with Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe. Pavelski potted his third goal of the series Thursday night to give San Jose a 2-0 lead 10:21 into the second period on a power play. Little Joe has been anything but in this series, and that's been a godsend since Joe Thornton and his partner in crime, Patrick Marleau, are still looking to really get going (although the latter finally scored his first goal of the playoffs Thursday).
And perhaps that's what telling of this Sharks team right now. They apparently can overcome the lack of production from Marleau and Thornton. At least so far.
"We know everyone is capable in here, we've seen it all year with injuries and guys stepping in," Pavelski said. "It's the big stage, and it's good to see guys step up."
Credit McLellan with a key move that paid off handsomely in Game 5. He replaced the banged-up Dany Heatley on the Thornton-Marleau line with speedster Torrey Mitchell and dropped Heatley with Logan Couture and Manny Malhotra. Couture's third unit was very effective; the rookie center scored twice in Game 5, underlying San Jose's depth up front and the reason the Marleau-Thornton goal drought hasn't killed them up to this point.
"If we're going to win games, we're going to need other guys to step up, and that's something we've done in these playoffs," Couture said.
In these playoffs, yes.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.