When the Sharks move into the conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs Friday, they’ll be coming off seven days of rest since they eliminated the Kings last week in Los Angeles.
You can’t beat the timing of the Sharks’ lengthy repose. They play a sport where, in the playoffs, you take the pounding of a football player but have as little as two days of recovery instead of seven, unless you dispatch an opponent quickly, as the Sharks did with the Kings.
In their five first-round games, the Sharks absorbed 225 hits from a team that would have been better off controlling the puck more and playing demolition derby less. San Jose smacked the Kings 176 times, according to ESPN’s individual-player hit stats, and you know somebody felt every one of them. So, yeah, the Sharks were happy to wallow in relaxation while the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators added to the 389 hits they’d already laid on each other going into the seventh game of their series Wednesday in Orange County.
At practice Tuesday, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer drilled his team hard, but without any hitting to speak of. They’d been off since Friday’s 6-3 clincher over the Kings. DeBoer was happy his players had some time to recuperate, but he was a little worried, too, so he had them out for more ice time Wednesday.
“You never complain about not playing now, but it’s definitely a fine line,” DeBoer said. “You can get rusty. You can get a little soft.”
There’s nothing like a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs. If you watched the St. Louis-Chicago decider Monday, you’d think the victorious Blues would need about a month in the Caribbean before playing again. Instead of a Red Stripe on a Jamaican beach, they’ll be asked to pour punishment in Dallas on Friday. It’ll be the same for the survivor between the Ducks and Predators.
“I don’t think there will be any negative to the team coming out of it,” DeBoer said of his opponents’ extended series. “I think we’re too early in the playoffs for fatigue or anything. If they’re coming off a Game 7 conference final and jumping into a Stanley Cup and you’ve been playing playoff hockey for a month and a half, it’s one thing. I think it’s going to be an advantage for whichever team we play, just because they are playing at a very high level all week.”
DeBoer took over the Sharks this year after Todd McLellan left by mutual agreement with the club after seven seasons. McLellan might still be the coach if the Sharks had not missed the playoffs last year or been knocked out the year before after taking a 3-0 first-round lead against the Kings.
In DeBoer, the Sharks hired a coach who can spring a surprise. His 2011-12 New Jersey Devils beat three teams in the playoffs with better records before they lost the Cup to the Kings. Sharks fans hope he can write a success story on this coast.
The trick to a long playoff run?
“Just kind of minimize the highs and lows and not celebrate too much when things are going really well and don’t overreact when they’re not,” DeBoer said. “It really is a marathon, an almost two-month marathon.”
Having been through four rounds once, DeBoer thinks he’s ready to go the distance.
“I was just winging it last time,” he said. “That’s the truth. I feel much more prepared this time around.”
The Sharks seem to have the talent for a long run. Brent Burns, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound defenseman, is the team’s scoring leader in the playoffs with eight points. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, with six points each, also rank among the playoffs’ top 10 in scoring average. Don’t forget that Couture broke his ankle in October and had to have hardware surgically inserted to fix it up. He needed more surgery in December to repair a bleeding artery in his thigh. Even hockey players hate it when that happens.
Joe Thornton, the Sharks’ revered center, smiled contentedly after Tuesday’s practice, the controversy over the Sharks taking his captain’s patch two years ago and giving it to Pavelski seemingly only a memory.
If anything, Thornton may be playing better, with less pressure. He finished tied for fourth in the NHL in regular-season scoring with 82 points, the most since 2009-10 for the certain Hall of Famer.
“Nothing’s changed as far as my play or me in the locker room,” Thornton said. “But as far as the group as a whole, we’re playing really good and we have a lot of confidence. I think Pav has done an unbelievable job this year.”
At his advanced age of 36, Thornton has enjoyed his extra days of rest. He is eating well and sleeping in. He’s getting in some decent skates and putting in a little time in the gym. He awaits the second round.
“It’s been nice to get a couple days of practice in and kind of get over your little injuries that you’ve accumulated over the last 10 or so days of the first round,” Thornton said. “It’s been real good. It seems like we’ve got a lot of energy out there right now. We’re getting ready to go for this weekend.”