Of course, the Sharks can make Joyce eat these harsh words by winning Thursday, but it's an opinion that's shared by a lot of hockey people. The Sharks will never get respect, until they win it all. They've been picked as favorites, or among the faves, practically every year for the past decade or so. Seems that long, anyway.
"Just win, baby." I believe that was another Californian, Al Davis, who made that simple request of his team. If only it were that simple...everyone would do it.
From Gare Joyce on espn.com
It wouldn't have been fair if somehow Logan Couture's goal four minutes into the third period had stood up as the game-winner. There are goals that are scored and then there are goals, like Couture's, that are scored against all reason. The San Jose Sharks had no business being in the game last night, never mind being in a position to close out the series.
It wouldn't have been fair if San Jose, thoroughly outplayed for 40 minutes, trailing in shots on goal 32-13 through 40 minutes, had eliminated the Detroit Red Wings the other night. Can you actually win a series in a game where you don't win a single shift in the decisive game? I only ask because San Jose didn't, and yet the Sharks were 16 minutes from advancing to the Western Conference finals. Sharks coach Todd McLellan's postgame estimate was right. "Only one team skated," he said.
It's not that a lot of people in hockey question the heart of the core players in the Sharks' lineup, namely Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley -- it's that they don't bother questioning something that they're certain doesn't exist. You look at those three and say "players" and not "winners."
Where are the winners on the San Jose roster? OK, Dan Boyle was the lead defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Cup. Antti Niemi got his ring with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, though any sense that he was a key part of their Stanley Cup run went out the window when Chicago walked away from an unfavorable arbitration decision. And if you remember Niclas Wallin on the Carolina Hurricanes' blue line in Carolina's Cup run, well, you get high marks for recalling him among the more established names on the team. But even if you include passengers on the winning bus, that's it for the Sharks.
Detroit? You can't turn around in the Red Wings' locker room without bumping into a guy with a ring.
Thursday's Game 7 will be one of those existential moments in sports. Yeah, it's only the second round of the playoffs and the second round is the least lovable of all rounds. The finals and the first round have all the magic, and the stakes are higher for the conference finals. Still, one of the most fascinating experiences in hockey is the Sharks' meltdown. Every year you think that maybe -- maybe -- they're through it and that Thornton and Marleau (and lately, Heatley) will get over the top. But they haven't. Based on Game 6's result, it's tough to bet that they will this season. There wasn't a single shift during the game where one of those three, or any combination of them, took over. You have to believe they're talented enough and they've had plenty of opportunities. This ain't a curse. You gotta believe it comes down to the most overused word in the sports lexicon: character.
Would Detroit ever trade Pavel Datsyuk in his prime? The idea is unthinkable, even before his heroics in Games 5 and 6 against the Sharks. The Boston Bruins had no problem dealing Thornton and even structured his contract to allow them to move him -- they made the decision that they weren't going to win with him and getting close didn't matter.
Nothing about Marleau's history says winner. Skilled, yes, but not winner. The same can be said about Heatley.
OK, you can accuse me of being a negative guy, but it's fascinating to watch players with so much talent fail to perform in the clutch. You suspect a kid like Couture will figure out winning eventually, and there are other young players in the San Jose lineup who might as well. But Thornton, Marleau and Heatley underperforming has become an annual playoff event.
It's not done. The Sharks will have home ice, and Detroit hasn't won it all with Jimmy Howard before. But if the Wings lose on Thursday, will you change your assessment of Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom? Do they become lesser players? Brian Rafalski? Henrik Zetterberg? Not even close. They're winners. They've won and you'd bet on them winning again, if not Thursday then some other time.
And if the Sharks win, do you look at Thornton, Marleau and Heatley differently? Not really. You'll feel like they're just postponing the inevitable. Guess which team the Vancouver Canucks will be rooting for.