Sharks' victory masks trouble just below surface

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Rob Blake(notes) sat at his locker stall after having removed the last of his equipment. He raised his head, got a little smirk on his face and summed up a crazy night of hockey with eight words that rang oh so true – "Well, that was a good game to watch."

The captain of the San Jose Sharks could say that now, minutes after Devin Setoguchi's(notes) second goal of the game decided Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series in overtime. But Blake certainly would have had a much different analysis had this 6-5 verdict gone to the Colorado Avalanche instead of the desperate home team.

Blake scored, but like many Sharks was up and down.
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

What started as the biggest game in the Sharks' history became the biggest period in franchise history when the score was tied 4-4 entering the third period. Narrowed even further, the biggest overtime in franchise history came down to possibly the biggest power play in – well, you get the picture.

Obviously, the Sharks could not afford to lose this game. Down 2-0 in a playoff series is death. Since relocating from Quebec City to Denver, the Avalanche have won all 12 playoff series in which they've captured the first two games. And the Sharks are 0 for 7 when they fall into an 0-2 hole. A combined 19 consecutive outcomes certainly support the theory San Jose would have been toast.

Then again, if the Sharks don't pick up their game, they still might face a second straight first-round ouster against the eighth seed in the West. When they wash away the excitement of Friday night's victory and start digging into the first two games of the series, the Sharks really are going to start wondering why it has been this hard.

"These are the kind of things that happen in the playoffs," high-energy center Scott Nichol(notes) said. "It was a rollercoaster ride and everyone played well up and down the lineup. … I think we can all go home and feel good about ourselves."

Hmmm.

As much as the Sharks were looking to their stars to step up and lead the way, the jury certainly still is out on how they performed in this one.

Goalie Evgeni Nabokov(notes) might have been the victim of a couple bad bounces, but allowing four goals on the first 10 shots is not acceptable in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was caught deep in his net when Chris Stewart(notes) beat him 5:34 into the third period for his second goal and the fifth one-goal advantage for the Avs.

"I wasn't able to make any key saves," said Nabokov, who almost could have left out the word "key" and not been far from the truth.

That has to be a concern for San Jose. Oh, they said all the right things in the locker room afterward – suggesting he's a great goalie in the league, they have all the confidence in him, how he has saved them on so many nights, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, he's having trouble stringing together good games, and there's the lingering memory of last year's first-round flameout against Anaheim when he was outplayed by Jonas Hiller(notes).

This time it was Craig Anderson(notes) doing the trick. And the big Colorado netminder nearly stole another game despite facing 52 shots on goal, watching another 32 efforts go wide or high and 16 others get blocked in front of him.

Joe Thornton(notes), Patrick Marleau(notes) and Dany Heatley(notes), too, all were expected to put their best skate forward and at least slow down all the media scrutiny that hits this time of the year in San Jose. They, too, seemed to do as much damage as produce what the hosts needed.

The trio was on the ice when 70 seconds into the wild game, Rob Blake made the odd decision to throw a hard pass from way too close toward Marc-Edouard Vlasic(notes), who only had time to watch it ricochet off his chest and past Nabokov. The top line was on for two more goals against, and on the ice for a pair San Jose scored.

"It was a crazy game because of the bounces," Blake said. "But both teams stuck with it."

As the scene shifts to Denver, the question is whether the Sharks can minimize their mental and physical mistakes long enough to truly put away Colorado. They can't expect to rally from five one-goal deficits and win. That will not happen again this playoff season, let alone in a playoff series for San Jose.

"I guess before you get up you have to come down," Nabokov said. "I hope this gives us some momentum."

Momentum? We'll see. For now it gave them new life. Because if this one went the other way Friday, it was time to start the annual obituary.