SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks knew at some point in the Stanley Cup playoffs they would run into adversity. They just didn't think it would happen this soon, as the Sharks lost 3-2 to Calgary on Wednesday in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal.
How they react Thursday night in Game 2 will tell us how much they have learned from the last two postseasons.
Flash back to early May last year, when coach Ron Wilson was trying to explain how the organization wouldn't know how far it progressed until it faced another playoff challenge. He spoke just days after his team was ushered out of the second round by Detroit in much the same manner Edmonton tossed the Sharks aside from the same round the postseason before.
San Jose had a 2-0 lead and took the Oilers into triple overtime of Game 3 before losing four straight in 2006. San Jose was about 30 seconds of a 3-1 lead on the Red Wings last spring, but botched defensive assignments on a faceoff late in regulation, allowing Detroit to tie the game and eventually win in overtime to tie a series the Red Wings would eventually capture with wins in Games 5 and 6.
In both years the Sharks were considered contenders, and this year even more so. While one game doesn't make a series, it's a wake-up call.
"We lost two faceoffs and they scored on both," Wilson said, simplifying the outcome on how Calgary scored its first and third goals, both from Stephane Yelle. "We just have to fix a few things and we'll be all right."
You could almost see this coming as soon as San Jose and Calgary got locked into the Nos. 2-7 matchup. The Flames are the kind of team that gives San Jose fits. We didn't see it Wednesday night, but there will be a time in this series, probably soon, when Calgary will physically test San Jose.
Leading from start to finish in Game 1, it wasn't necessary. And it wouldn't have necessarily been smart since the two teams are right back at it for the second time in 48 hours Thursday. But you can bet Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr or Owen Nolan is going to leave a mark on someone soon.
"We've talked about playing physical, but staying out of the penalty box at the same time," Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. "We played with good discipline."
The Sharks are better equipped to deal with it when push comes to shove, but you have to wonder about their health on defense. The one surprising part of Game 1 was Calgary's ability to get the Sharks running around a bit in their own end.
Craig Rivet played in Game 1, but he was a minus-2. He missed the final five games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury. It wasn't minor bumps and bruises when he didn't play in the regular-season finale, a time to get the rust off.
It's not an exaggeration to suggest veteran Kyle McLaren is playing on one leg. He had an arthroscopic clean-out of his troublesome left knee in January. But this time for the first time after such a procedure he experienced pain, a setback if you will. It's evident, as is the case with Rivet, that McLaren isn't skating as well as he'd like.
And Christian Ehrhoff wasn't anywhere to be found. He's nursing a lower-body injury (probably his leg since he's not even skating). That's three of San Jose's top six. And for all that Brian Campbell is known for – pretty passing and clever skating – throwing his weight around is not one of them.
"We'd certainly like to be 100 percent healthy back there," said McLaren, limited to 13:04 of ice time. "The way (Ehrhoff) can skate and control the puck on the power play, I think we're missing that. We have to fill in for him. One guy can't change the dynamic of the team too much, but he'll certainly be welcomed back when he's healthy."
Wilson said he would add healthy scratch Matt Carle to the Game 2 lineup. It's assumed he'll replace Alexei Semenov, who skated a defensemen-low total of 11:01. Wilson also said rookie right wing Devin Setoguchi would go into the lineup to add speed and offense.
"We've felt pretty good about our defense all year," Rivet said. "When we've had someone go down we have the capability to stick other guys in the lineup. I can't say that tonight was one of our best games as a defense corps. We're going to be looking to play better the next game."
Kiprusoff was there to be had early, but he regrouped before the end of the first period and was money in stopping 37 of 39 shots.
Iginla was never better than what counted as the game-winner. Winning possession from Campbell in the neutral zone, Iginla skated through a rub-out on the boards, went down when a beaten Campbell used his stick to do something that should have resulted in a delayed penalty, regained his balance, and put a difficult shot on goal that turned into a Yelle rebound goal for a 3-1 lead at 16:21. He had the second assist on Calgary's second goal and skated 23:32, the kind of ice time usually reserved for a decent defenseman.
Speaking of which, Phaneuf was out there a game-high 28:42, focused mainly on shutting down the Joe Thornton line, which he did until San Jose scored with an extra attacker inside the final minute. Regehr saw 22:13 of ice time, most of it spent helping partner Cory Sarich through a rough night. Calgary had its hands full with San Jose's second line of Patrick Marleau-Joe Pavelski-Ryane Clowe, but bent in the end instead of completely breaking.
"We had some good scoring chances," said Clowe, who scored both of San Jose's goals. "But overall they wanted it more. I thought they were hungrier."