Special teams deficiencies doom Sharks
After they jumped out of the gates quickly on home ice during Friday night's Game 3 victory, the San Jose Sharks were searching for answers to why Sunday's Game 4 was nearly a 180-degree switch.
With a 4-2 loss to Vancouver at HP Pavilion, the Sharks now head back across the border needing to win three straight games to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals as the Canucks now hold a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Unlike on Friday, when they built a 3-0 first-period lead on the way to a 4-3 victory, the Sharks looked sluggish in Game 4 and couldn't execute on the power play. To compound those problems, three straight 5-on-3 goals by the Canucks in a span of 1:55 in the second period put the game essentially out of reach for San Jose at 3-0.
The Sharks had the first five power-play opportunities of the game but couldn't convert on a single one. Then, at 8:15 of the second, Dany Heatley took a minor for high-sticking, putting the Canucks on their first power play and starting the Sharks' downward spiral.
San Jose took three more penalties in quick succession, and Vancouver capitalized on their multiple two-man edges with a goal from Ryan Kesler and two from Sami Salo, all on one-time slap shots.
"Disappointed, myself included, we had too many passengers tonight," said Sharks center Torrey Mitchell, whose hooking minor at 9:05 of the second gave Vancouver its first 5-on-3 advantage.
Mitchell also acknowledged that after the Sharks' failure with the man advantage, sooner or later the Canucks would be skating up a player (or two) instead of down one.
"You get three, four in a row there, there is going to be a point in the game where it's going to be your turn," he said. "And we didn't get it done."
The Sharks did manage to outscore the Canucks 2-1 at even strength, but that wasn't nearly enough to overcome Vancouver's special-teams edge. The fourth line for San Jose was a bright spot, and rookie center Andrew Desjardins scored his first career postseason goal, one of the Sharks' two in the final period.
Can the Sharks take anything away from that even-strength play moving forward into Game 5?
"Yeah I think so," Desjardins said. "[But, we have to] move on, refocus. . . . It's unfortunate [to have] the three 5-on-3s and they score on all of them. Just got to refocus for the next game."
Outside of the Sharks' fourth line, there wasn't much consistent quality play from any of the eight combined forward trios on either team.
"We just weren't sharp," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
When asked whether he thought that was because of physical or mental issues, McLellan responded, "I wish I had the answer. The passing was off. The receiving was off. There wasn't much rhythm. I have to believe some of that is mental, some of it's physical, a combination of both."
And why was the start to the game not nearly as strong as the previous one?
"I don't have the answer for that," the coach added.
The problem for the Sharks is that the Canucks didn't exactly perform at their best. Yes, Vancouver scored three times with a two-man advantage; but at even strength, their only moment of brilliance was a nifty two-on-one goal set up by Henrik Sedin and tapped home by Alexandre Burrows.
Leading the series, playing on the road without their choice of line matchups, and without two defenseman in Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome, it wasn't necessarily surprising to see the Canucks give a mediocre performance. But the Sharks should have been more desperate. Captain Joe Thornton did miss the final few minutes with an apparent upper-body injury, but for the majority of the game the Sharks were completely healthy and had plenty going for them with a chance to tie the series.
Even though Desjardins and Ryane Clowe scored third-period goals to cut a 4-0 deficit in half, the improved level of play from San Jose in the third was just too little too late.
To get a win in Game 5 on hostile ice and get back in the series, the Sharks are certainly going to need better efforts from everyone in the dressing room – but also from one player in particular.
Heatley has just one point in the series (an assist in Game 2) and has scored just three goals in 17 playoff games despite being a two-time 50-goal scorer in the league.
"Well, Dany Heatley, like a lot of our players, we expect a little bit more from," McLellan said. "I think he has to find a way to put himself in better position on the ice to score. We'll get that from him in Game 5."
They'd better get that from Heatley, as well as improved performances all over the ice. Otherwise, the Sharks might be cleaning out their lockers.