Commentary

Sharks look to get meaner, nastier

Updated: May 19, 2010, 9:24 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The way Doug Wilson sees it, his San Jose Sharks are down 2-0 in the Western Conference finals to a team that's a near carbon copy of a club they beat in five games the previous round.

And that's certainly no disrespect to the Chicago Blackhawks, quite the opposite.

Moments before boarding a Chicago-bound flight with his players, the Sharks GM said Wednesday the Blackhawks and Red Wings are the best two teams they've played this season, two high-octane clubs that play a very similar puck-possession style, two teams with talented blue-line corps that key the transition game.

On Detroit, Wilson said, you had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as top-end talented forwards who spearheaded the offense; on Chicago, it's the two-headed monster of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Then, Wilson continued, you've got gritty bodies on both teams that are hard to handle in front of the net: Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary on the Wings; Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Troy Brouwer on the Hawks.

"They are very similar teams, but now we need to replicate the way we played against Detroit in this series," Wilson said.

The difference is, the Sharks never really faced adversity against the Wings; they jumped out to a 3-0 lead and afforded themselves the luxury of a Game 4 blowout loss before closing it out in five with their best game of the postseason.

There are no luxuries left now. The Sharks must win four of five games against what most deem to be the best team still standing in the NHL. The Hawks are like the Red Wings, all right; they look like the Detroit team that won four Stanley Cups in 11 years, a club that just won't share the puck and attacks with relentless zeal.

"I mean, they're who we thought they were and they're doing what they're supposed to do," Sharks blueliner Dan Boyle said Wednesday, invoking Dennis Green. "We need to raise our game and have our top guys raise their games. They're doing what they're supposed to do."

Boyle was in an ornery mood. The 2004 Cup champion expects more from his team and can care less now if the rest of the hockey world has written them off.

"Obviously, I don't want to be in this position, but this is a good time for us to come together here and kind of raise our middle finger and just do it together," Boyle said. "It's going to take a lot of work."

And there's the rub. Yes, many have written off the Sharks at this point, largely because of their past playoff woes. But these Sharks are different. When you listened to Boyle, Rob Blake and Scott Nichol talk Wednesday, you heard three veteran players sounding genuine about their existing confidence, not frazzled players delivering token clichés for the cameras.

They honestly believe, even if nobody else does. Bring on the adversity.

"I think we're better that way," said Nichol, an important voice in the dressing room. "Coming into the playoffs [when] Colorado beat us [in Game 1], everyone -- the media and stuff -- was thinking, 'Oh boy, here we go again.' And we proved them wrong.

"Nobody has confidence in us other than the guys in our room. We know we can get it done, and that's a good thing. We're a pretty dangerous animal when we got our backs against the wall, and that's the way we're approaching it."

Are they frustrated? You bet. There's a sense of a lost opportunity in Game 1. There's a sense, as Wilson pointed, they've got more to give.

"There was a sense of frustration for a little stretch during that game there in the second that we'd probably like to take out," Blake said. "We can't change the style that has gotten us to this point. That's one thing Chicago did good for two games, they stayed with their game plan for two games. They were playing with a lead for the most part and we have to take a page from that. The frustration creeps in, but you can't allow it to affect the way we play."

Maybe, Nichol said, the Sharks also need to grow more of a hate for these Hawks. Other than the odd skirmish involving Dave Bolland, it's been mostly a passive series.

"Maybe that's a point. I was thinking last night that we haven't played these guys since January or February, we don't have that hatred for them. We should," Nichol said. "It's such a fine line where you don't want to cost your team a penalty. We've been doing a real good job of playing within the whistles. There hasn't been too much cheap stuff. We're not going to change that way, but we can probably play a little meaner and a little nastier in between the whistles."

Maybe, when this series is over, the Sharks will also find out another truth: they're a great hockey team that just happened to run into the best of them. No shame in that. Just don't tell the men in teal that right now.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.