Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stars End Sharks’ Streak At Home

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Such was the case for the San Jose Sharks, narrowly losing to the Dallas Stars at home, with the score of 3-2.

With the loss, the Sharks still remain in third place in the Western Conference standings and atop the Pacific Division. Some writers or analysts may state the Sharks have “suddenly discovered how the Pacific Division may be more difficult than expected” due to their loss to the Stars. In reality, for the Sharks, it was a bad game, and for the Stars, it was a fortunate win. To win eight games in a row is in itself a great accomplishment, and most Sharks fans are cognizant of that.

Although it is good to be in a solid third place position this close to the regular season’s end, those who were able to watch the game either at the Tank or on television may be more than a bit disappointed with how the loss played out. With the combination of the Sharks’ messy play, the horrible officiating, the bad bounces, and the dirty cheap shots by the Stars players, the loss did not sit well at all with the fans. The game did not play out like a typical gentlemen’s loss, but instead a bitter end to a chippy game.

Unlike the visible explosiveness of the Sharks team from the Detroit Red Wings game two days prior, I saw a Sharks team reminiscent of last year’s first two games against the Colorado Avalanche in the Conference Quarterfinals. For the Sharks, passes missed the mark, turnovers were given away, players could not properly handle the puck, and others had to maneuver to keep from hitting one another. To make matters worse, Stars forward Jamie Benn managed to sneak past the Sharks defenses on a power play to score a short-handed, breakaway goal just over a minute into the game.

It was then the Sharks picked up their pace.

Sharks forward Kyle Wellwood perfectly tipped in a shot to even out the score to 1-1 by the end of the first period, and by the second period, the rejuvenated Sharks were playing to their typical high level. Just over a minute into the second period, Sharks forwards Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau executed a textbook two on one for Marleau’s 26th goal of the year, giving the Sharks their first lead of the game.

Throughout the period, the Sharks demonstrated better puck control, more shots, and some well-placed hits. It is always nice to see big Ben Eager get fired up and throw his body around. Defenseman Douglas Murray also did what he does best: block shots, clear the puck, and deliver great, clean hits. The Stars players, mad about being sent to the ice, all attempted to retaliate, but Murray confidently brushed them away.

The third period unfortunately saw the Stars score two more goals that managed to beat goaltender Antti Niemi. Both Stars goals occurred in front of the net: one bounced to a waiting Loui Eriksson, and the other redirected off of Dany Heatley’s stick by accident. Goaltender Antti Niemi, although allowing three goals in the contest, did not play a bad game. He still managed to fight off screens to stop wayward pucks and even executed a brilliant save on the Stars' Mike Ribeiro on an open net opportunity.

While the progression of the period saw the Sharks attempt to score again, nothing seemed to be working. Puck battles bounced in the Stars’ favor, opportunities for Shark goals would be thwarted by un-penalized cheap shots (case in point, the tackling of Joe Pavelski close to the end of the third period on a scoring opportunity), and a legitimate goal late in the third was waved off by the officials. There was even one instance where the Stars’ goalie tripped up Ryane Clowe, with Clowe being sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference.

Although the Sharks earned no points for their efforts, as fans we must keep this game in the history books the way it played out: a fluke.

The Sharks have two days to pull he team together to re-energize before their Tuesday night game against the Nashville Predators at the Shark Tank. Go Sharks!

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