All the angst, all the psychological baggage of previous playoff pratfalls will be in the air tonight, when the San Jose Sharks take to the ice against the Colorado Avalanche, trying to salvage a series in which they've managed to score all the game-winning goals - one for themselves, twice for the Avalanche. It wasn't just poor Dan Boyle's 'own' goal in overtime in Sunday's 1-0 loss that has them shaking their collective heads. In the opener, the winning goal by Chris Stewart banked in off Shark defenceman Rob Blake's skate. It could just as easily be 3-0 San Jose right now and then no one would be making the same-old observations about the Sharks and their inability to win when it matters.
There has been enough bad karma in this series already to sink even a stout and resolute team. For a fragile squad such as the Sharks, who were the victims of a major upset last year, well, it could go one of two ways. Either it makes them stronger and they finally develop that killer instinct; or they meekly go away one more time, at which point the temptation the ownership group will likely give in to the urge and make some changes in the core group.
For reasons that I cannot exactly put my finger on, I'm thinking that the Sharks will respond tonight, on the grounds that everything that could possibly go wrong has already and they are still in the series, dispute all the weird and quirky happenstances that have occurred. Colorado is going what it does best - just hanging around in the game and not beating itself. Against the Sharks, that's not a bad strategy, given their historical tendency to implode.
But if it goes the other way and San Jose changes the core group, it will likely mean the end for either ex-captain Patrick Marleau or starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, both of whom are unrestricted free agents. And if Marleau ever hits the open market this summer, do you wonder if Calgary wouldn't have been a likely destination, given how close it is to Aneroid, Sask. and the ties that the Flames' organization has to the Sharks, starting with general manager Darryl Sutter. Or it might have been a possibility except that Calgary went and gave $14-million to Matt Stajan (a $3.5-million annual cap hit) and took on another $3 million worth of Ales Kotalik. Ask yourself what you'd rather have. Those two, gobbling up $6.5-million against your cap? Or Marleau, the 44-goal scorer, a left-hand shot who could play his natural position, centre, and maybe finally solve that decades-long hole that you've had since Joe Nieuwendyk left the organization?
Of course, it's all just idle speculation now because there isn't enough flexibility in Calgary's payroll any more to make the sort of splashy move that might mollify some of that disenchanted fan base, watching the playoffs unfold, seeing how many upsets are pending, and wondering if they might not have been able to pull off a miracle or two themselves, if they'd just found a way to win a key game or two down the stretch.