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ADAMS: Small birds devouring the big fish

Hockey guru Barry Melrose readied himself for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He agreed that it was a great boost for San Jose to be hosting the Big Game, especially coming off of Saturday’s 3-2 conquest in overtime to make the series 2-1 in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He noted, “This is an elite team that has never gotten there. They made it to the Finals this year. Peter DeBoer has been a great catch. Joe Pavelski as captain is good. Martin Jones has been a great addition.”

However, he concluded that Monday was do-or-die night for the men in teal.



Unfortunately, there was not much “do” and a lot that looked like “die.” Pittsburgh played a solid game in route to a 3-1 victory.

What got San Jose to this fourth and final round has abandoned them against the birds. In the previous three rounds, their big guns scored. They executed with precision. They scored first. In some cases, they won big. They made loud statements. There were shutouts that were part of the mix. It was operating on all cylinders, an offensive juggernaut with a stingy defense.




What a difference a series makes.

The Pittsburgh Penguins deserve their current dominance. They have played remarkably well. Coach Mike Sullivan acts like he still has the keys to the arena he once prowled as a player. He is making all the right calls, and his players are executing magnificently. A potentially lethal SAP Center crowd that once rejoiced in shouting “We want the Cup,” was left to walk away after Monday night’s loss with heads hanging and wonderment at how the Penguins make it look so easy.

Four games ago, the Sharks had the best power play in the playoffs. It has failed to perform.

Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were setting new team records for scoring prowess in the playoffs. Brent Burns was an incredible force that the opposition simply could not corral. That has dissipated as quickly as a Nevada County thunderstorm.

The Sharks had scored the first goal coming into the Finals 13 of 18 times. The only lead they have had in the Finals was when Jonas Donskoi scored the overtime goal at the very end of Game 3. Otherwise, they have played mostly from behind, a trend suicidal in hockey.

Martin Jones was contributing shutouts in the previous rounds. Although he has played remarkably well, the Penguins have found ways to score the right goals at the right moments.

It would take Miracle on Ice No. 2 for the Sharks to prevail and hoist the Stanley Cup. Unless there is a monumental swing (and don’t expect that) the Pittsburgh will claim to the Stanley Cup.

However, this is as much about the Sharks inabilities as it is about the determination of Pittsburgh. Mike Sullivan was promoted early on in the season. He has totally righted a listless ship. He openly chirped at players on the bench complaining of the bounces of the puck. He made the team play his game. He was a disciplinarian who got his team to believe. Sullivan was the perfect formula to drive this team hard into the playoffs in search of the Cup.

Along the way, he made the New York Rangers look foolish in five games. Next was the team who posted the best regular season record and the President’s Cup, the Washington Capitals. The Penguins conquered them in seven. The Tampa Bay Lightning was another tough seven game series. However, Pittsburgh was ready to move on…and they did.

So, that leaves them with San Jose, a giddy bunch that was so happy to be a part of the party on their 25th anniversary. And, it is the Penguins taking the bite out of the Sharks. It is the small bird devouring the big fish.

Here is the good news. It has been a great and entertaining ride during the regular and post season. There was ground-breaking excitement in Silicon Valley.

Here is the bad news. They are very hard-pressed to make it to hockey’s finish line, the Stanley Cup.

Perhaps entertainment is OK this first time around. However, when you work hard enough to get to where the Sharks were four games ago, you cannot help but wonder if this is potentially one of life’s large missed opportunities.

Jim Adams is a regular contributor to The Union. He can be reached at adamses@inreach.com.


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