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Even-keeled Teal
Steady play has served SJ well
4/11/04 - by Steve Flores

O.k. guys and dolls the playoffs are upon us and the San Jose Sharks have defied the odds of all of the world's supposed hockey experts and have not only qualified for the playoffs but actually entered with the #2 overall seed in the Western Conference. Before I venture into the vast playground of NHL postseason hyperbole let me first commend the entire organization and all the team's fans on a job well done.

The 2003-2004 Sharks have played with grit, effort and fervor all year long and deserve that #2 overall ranking.

Before the 1st round playoff series began we all knew that the Sharks had drawn the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks and Blues have met three other times in the post-season so there is definitely an air of familiarity between the two teams. The Blues qualified, as the 7th seed in the West But don't let that lower seeding fool you into thinking that they are head and shoulders beneath the men of teal.

The Blues finished only 13 points behind the Sharks, finished as one of the league's hottest clubs and have quality veteran leadership throughout their roster. Anyone watching the game 1 activities may have noticed that the gap is minimal.

Blues Center Doug Weight was all over the ice. He was a physical force and played with aggression and intimidation. The Sharks played stellar defense and Evgeny Nabokov was solid between the pipes. The Blues still bolster with Tank favorite Chris Pronger, Keith Tkachuk, Pavol Demitra and a cast of others. This team is not full of slouches.

The Sharks played hard and gritty. At times they looked exhausted and that's not me whining or raggin at them. Overall the Sharks are a very young team. Jonathan Cheechoo, Tom Preissing and game one game winning scorer Niko Dimitrakos are all in their 1st or 2d seasons. The team does have veteran leadership and Head Coach Ron Wilson will have them as prepared as he possibly can but don't for a moment underestimate the veteran savvy of these Blues. Thursday night's game could have gone either way. The Sharks are not the league's most gifted offensive juggernaut. The Sharks rely on 100% effort and top-notch defensive efforts to win nearly every game. They got that defensive portion in game #1. However, the offense was not there.

The NHL playoffs are different than the regular season. Team defenses are stepped up and far fewer penalties are called. The old adage is for the referee's to simply 'let them play'. For the most part this is true. Should the Sharks continue their winning ways they will have to deal with far tighter defense than in the regular season while dealing with only quality teams from here on out.

The plus here is that no major network or hockey publication has yet decided to really recognize the Sharks as anything other than a team that over achieved during the regular season. Don't let this bother you. This franchise has never gotten beyond the second round and after losing their most high profile players (Owen Nolan and Teemu Selanne) the media of both the U.S.A and Canada still have no proof that the Sharks are any better than their failures of season's past.

The respect will ultimately come from being able to reach out and pound away at the hockey demons that have thus far prevented the team from excelling beyond the second round. Until that is done we will have to sit and hope that this group of hard-working fella's can stand up to all of the pressures and nay Sayers en-rout to their goal of hoisting Lord Stanley's cup towards the rafters of the San Jose Arena.

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