Sharks regressing at the worst time
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Same ol' Sharks.
That's what every hockey fan in the world was saying at some point during the third period Wednesday night when the Vancouver Canucks weren't just handing the San Jose Sharks their lunch but stuffing it down their throat.
The Sharks, now down 2-0 in the Western Conference finals, were outclassed in every which way. They're now 0-6 in the conference finals over the past 12 months after being swept by Chicago last spring.
And people will say it again: Same ol' Sharks.
"Well, we have to do something to prove them wrong," Sharks winger Ryane Clowe said after Wednesday's 7-3 rout. "Or shut them up if they're going to say that. But we haven't. We lost last year and we've lost the first two this year. We have a lot of work ahead."
Do they ever. The Sharks have lost five of six games and are regressing at the worst possible time of the year.
"You look at the last six to seven games we've played, we're just not playing well," said rookie center Logan Couture, who scored the first goal of the game Wednesday night. "We're not playing the way we should be in the playoffs. Tonight was just embarrassing. Hopefully, it wakes us up a little bit."
Just when the Sharks seem to have turned a corner -- dominating the NHL in the second half of the regular season and beating Detroit two years in a row -- they flash their old colors, with a performance such as Game 2. Having covered this team the entire playoffs, we can safely report this was the Sharks' worst game of the spring. By a long shot.
"You lose 7-3, not many people play well. I didn't play well. The list goes on," Couture said. "It's embarrassing. It's the only word that comes to mind about tonight. You're in the conference finals and the Stanley Cup playoffs, you put an effort out like that. You can't feel bad for yourselves, but you feel bad for the fans and the coaching staff that we gave an effort like that tonight."
The Sharks were let off the hook for their Game 1 effort since they had just survived an epic seven-gamer with Detroit. But Game 2 brought more of the same mistakes: turnovers in the neutral zone, bad decisions on entry, poor passing and shaky defensive coverage.
In short, fundamental mistakes. So, what gives?
"I'm not sure," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We haven't made that many [mistakes] heading in here. We wouldn't have got to this point. We wouldn't have got by that red team we played last week.
"I think we have to give credit to the opponent, and we have to remember they're playing awfully hard, they have a good game plan and they're executing it better than we're executing ours. They're playing a little bit harder than we are. As a result, you tend to make more mistakes, you tend to get frustrated. When you get frustrated, you tend to take penalties. It's just a vicious circle. That could be one of the reasons why."
Ben Eager sure got frustrated. The Sharks tough guy took two consecutive bad penalties when the game was still up in the air, and the second resulted in a power-play goal by Chris Higgins at 7:56 in the third period to seal the game.
"That last penalty I guess cost us," Eager said. "I let the team down there. They scored on the power play. They have a dangerous power play, and we have to stay out of the box."
We'll say this about Eager: Yes, he took a few dumb penalties, but he was one of the few players on his team with the stones to try to do something out there Wednesday night. Patrick Marleau gets credit for dropping the gloves with Kevin Bieksa. Joe Thornton was busting his behind out there. But overall, there were a lot of passengers.
"As a team, they're outplaying us," Clowe said. "You can probably point to a lot of individuals right now, and that's a sad thing."
Through two games of the Western Conference finals, the Canucks are leaving no doubt why they were the No. 1 team in the NHL all regular season. Their top three forward lines are going, the Sedins had another big effort with five points combined and Maxim Lapierre's third line had another outstanding night.
"I think we've done it all year," said the captain, Henrik Sedin. "This is another game for us. We go out there, play our game, trust each other. That's been our focus all year. So it's nothing new tonight.
"It's going to be a new game on Friday."
It is indeed a new game Friday. The game of the year for the Sharks. A chance to show they're not a team deprived of the kind of character it will take to make this a series. Because know this: There's almost no one in the hockey world who believes they have a chance in hell at coming back in this series.
"We're very capable," said Thornton, who picked up another assist on the night. "We've bounced back all year."
They couldn't make it a series a year ago after going down 2-0 to Chicago, and Wednesday night's evidence at Rogers Arena hardly suggests they'll do it now.
"We have to win the next game. We have to. It's as simple as that. We got to treat it like Game 7," Couture said. "We should have treated tonight like Game 7 and we didn't. We go home now. We're not going to win with this effort or the effort we gave last game. We've got to be a lot better."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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