Commentary

Sharks finally show urgency, energy

Updated: May 21, 2011, 2:49 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dan Boyle had something to say to his team before Game 3, and when the veteran San Jose Sharks defenseman speaks, his teammates listen.

"I talked before the game about playing smarter," Boyle said. "Guys are playing hard, but you have to be smart."

In almost a total reversal from Game 2, the Vancouver Canucks were taking penalties and losing their composure to the tune of 10 power plays for the Sharks, and San Jose scored three with the man advantage for a 4-3 win Friday night.

There was more to what Boyle told his team, but that part isn't for public consumption.

"I don't want to say more, but it's something that can help us win this series if we keep doing it," said Boyle, whose power-play goal 6:46 into the third period stood as the game winner.

The Canucks made it interesting with a pair of power-play goals during Jamie McGinn's five-minute major in the third period, but the score doesn't really reflect a game the Sharks were in control of for the first 40 minutes.

And they were in control because they suddenly found their legs. It was the kind of pace the Sharks had not displayed in the opening two games in Vancouver.

"The urgency was there," said Sharks winger Ryane Clowe, who scored 8:22 into the first period to make it 2-0. "I'd like to see us have that all the time at this time of year. We have to have that urgency and desperation every game. If we had the puck tonight, they weren't getting it from us -- we had that mentality. That drew a lot of penalties."

Joe Thornton
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesPatrick Marleau (two goals) and Joe Thornton (three assists) put up monster efforts with their season essentially on the line.

Just how exactly does a team find that kind of pace and energy after not having it for two games?

"Most of it's will," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

With their character once again being questioned around the league after a 7-3 loss in Game 2, the Sharks avoided last year's script in Chicago and responded with a victory. There won't be a sweep this time.

And they responded by having the likes of Patrick Marleau (two goals) and Joe Thornton (three assists) put up monster efforts with their season essentially on the line.

"Patty and Joe led us, and other guys jumped on board," Clowe said. "It's nice to see that. When your best players are your best players, you always have a pretty good chance of winning. Tonight, we had a lot of guys going, more than in Vancouver. We talk about our depth all the time, but you have to have players playing to show your depth. We showed that tonight."

Thornton took over the NHL playoff scoring lead with 17 points (3-14). Once again he played with purpose, only this time he had more willing participants with him.

"Every game for us right now is Game 7," Thornton said. "We realize how important tonight was. Next game is just going to be more important. We realize what's at stake. The guys showed up, and the fans were into it. They gave us an extra boost."

Buoyed by that boisterous crowd, the Sharks came out of the gates flying. Finally, they put together a sustained forecheck, an effective cycle in the Canucks' zone and some much-needed puck possession.

"We just had our legs," Thornton said. "We put pucks in where we could get them back, drew some penalties. When we got our power play, we executed well. But yeah, just putting pucks in good places, being hard on pucks, retrieve pucks hard. We did that early."

Having the last line change at home was also a factor. McLellan was able to get Thornton's line on the Sedin twins just as he did with Pavel Datsyuk in the previous round. The Sedins were shut down at even strength. And Ryan Kesler didn't get much time against Thornton.

"One of the things that helped tonight is that we had the matchups," Boyle said. "We had the last change. I think we got what we wanted. That helped us. We responded the right way. The guys on the ice against the assigned players, we did our job."

The Canucks, meanwhile, weren't able to duplicate their road efforts from the previous round, in which they were a perfect 3-0 in Nashville. They had a brutal start, and it cost them. Undisciplined play just piled on to make it worse.

"We need to stay out of the box, especially early," Canucks star Daniel Sedin said. "Even when we scored to make it 3-1, we took two quick ones. We can't do that."

The Canucks had a glorious chance in the second period with back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays, one for 1:26 and one for 30 seconds. They couldn't score on either. Hard to win a game when you can't convert on two 5-on-3s.

"Oh, it's impossible," Daniel Sedin said. "That was our chance to come back in the game, I thought. They blocked a lot [of] shots. I thought we played it pretty good, but they blocked a lot of shots so we need to maybe hold on to the puck even more and move it around, but we got the shots we wanted. They just didn't make it to the net."

The Canucks still have the chance to go home with a split if they rebound Sunday afternoon. But the Sharks have other things in mind.

"This is just the start," Boyle said.

Well, unlike last year, at least the Sharks have won a game in the conference finals, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the final four going back to 2004.

Now the question is whether the Sharks can show the same kind of urgency and energy they displayed Friday night. If they do, this will be a long series.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.