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Despite homestand sweep, Sharks need to solve third-period paradox

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The San Jose Sharks completed a five-game homestand with five victories for the first time in organization history on Saturday night, beating the Anaheim Ducks in the overtime shootout, but a few wins in that stretch were unnecessarily difficult.

To wit, in both Wednesday's shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings and the victory over the Ducks noted above, the Sharks blew third-period leads and had to play extra time to register a win.

And loyal San Jose followers know that shutting down opponents in the third period has been a constant source of trouble for this team since Antti Niemi became its regular goalie in early 2011.

That's not to say this is Niemi's fault, at all, but there is an organizational issue that is going unchecked, and it's probably already cost the Sharks two very good shots at the Stanley Cup (in the 2011 and 2013 postseasons).

But it's such a paradox to consider: San Jose is actually 15-0-1 this season when they start the third period with a lead, yet they've given up 22 goals in the third period this year -- their worst defensive segment of each game, on average.

(The Sharks have surrendered just 14 goals in the first period and 19 in the second in 2013 so far.)

Any team that gets progressively worse defensively as the game goes on is bound to struggle. And even though San Jose may have pulled out those wins against its Southern California rivals at home in the shootouts, the extra skating and stress on a team has been completely unnecessary.

As noted above, this has been a problems for years with the Sharks: they have to spend extra energy securing wins -- or in the playoffs, playing extra games -- which comes back to haunt them later.

And this 2013-14 season has been no different, despite that shiny 15-0-1 record highlighted above. It's only a matter of time before one of these blown third-period leads costs the team with a injury or something in the overtime session.

Or truly, what it also does it tell other teams that the Sharks are easy to come back on late in a game. And that's a reputation no team in the National Hockey League wants.

San Jose is already perceived as "soft" because they've never been able to make the Stanley Cup Finals despite having a high level of talent on the roster and so many successful regular seasons.

Blowing third-period leads isn't changing that perception, even if the Sharks end up winning the game in the end: they're still soft, and no one fears them.

So yes, San Jose (18-3-5, 41 points) sits comfortably in first place right now in the Pacific Division standings as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-10-3, 31) tonight in the first of four road games (Pittsburgh, Carolina and Minnesota to follow).

But like so many seasons before, it'll just be more glass stilts until the Sharks learn to chomp down much harder in the final 20 minutes of every game.

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