The Los Angeles Kings are literally in a must-win game Saturday, April 26. To match the resulting intensity and desperation, the San Jose Sharks need to treat this Pacific Division semifinals game with equal urgency.
Sure, the Sharks still have two more chances to close out the series if they lose here. Unfortunately for them, this time of year is not about winning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only the Detroit Red Wings have matched their success of advancing in seven of the last nine seasons.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the only goal. This is about building a championship team.
Failing to close has consequences. Just in the aforementioned nine seasons, San Jose has several examples of this, and coach Todd McLellan mentioned one prime example.
Most current Sharks remember being 20 minutes away from a quick ending to their second-round series against the Red Wings in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs and squandering it. They ended up going seven games and had nothing left for the skilled and deep Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference finals.
Other examples in San Jose's past happened with few of the same players and entirely different coaching staffs. Still, this team continued to show a lack of killer instinct with comfortable leads and against sub-par competition during the 2013-14 NHL season. What is to say this time will be different?
If the Sharks do not close here, they face another physically-grueling game against a bitter Pacific Division rival in a building they have not had a regulation win in since 2011. They need their rest, and teams that win the Stanley Cup need a short series somewhere along the way to recover from the attrition of playoff hockey.
As CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz detailed Friday, there is now a nasty tone to this series. Look for Jonathan Quick to return to form along with both team defenses. Both would seem to play to the Los Angeles strengths.
Nevertheless, look for San Jose to dominate play but still need overtime to get this done thanks to its five pictured advantages...
The San Jose Sharks are the best home team in the NHL since Todd McLellan took over as head coach in 2008. No team has matched their home success over the last two seasons. No Western Conference team had as good a home record in the 2013-14 NHL season.
As for the other side of that equation, the Shark Tank (as the former HP Pavilion-turned SAP Center is known) has been a tough place on the Los Angeles Kings. They have lost all five Stanley Cup playoff games there over the last two postseasons and were not even competitive for most of the two Pacific Division semifinals games so far.
Line matchups are important. The crowd can not only inspire but make communication difficult. Athletes are creatures of habit, and being at home puts a team closer to a regular routine. The Kings will not overcome all of those advantages facing a 3-1 series deficit.
There is no doubt who the better team in this series has been. The San Jose Sharks were better in the 2013-14 NHL season, even if they lost the season series. In addition to adding one scoring-line forward for the Stanley Cup run like the Los Angeles Kings did at the deadline, two major forwards returned from injury.
No team matches San Jose's skating depth. Two 20-goal scorers may see their first action of the postseason Saturday, as could last season's second-leading blue-line scorer.
The Sharks have been the better team because they are the better team everywhere but in net. Even there, Antti Niemi has definitely out-played Jonathan Quick thus far.
It is more appropriate for the San Jose Sharks to be cold-blooded creatures that perform best when it is warm. Up until recent years, they have always been the ones that fade without much of a fight sometime in May.
These Sharks are different than past teams. They still play well in the winter, but do not go down without a fight in the spring.
They showed they have the ability to close out series with the franchise's first-ever sweep in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs before falling just short in the second round. They have shown they do not fade in the big moments with victories in 10 of their last 11 postseason overtime games, including four straight over the Los Angeles Kings.
Besides, it is still April when San Jose has a well-established successful history.
The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are certainly capable of taking advantage of any opening. The San Jose Sharks know this and are not patting themselves on the back until the fourth win is wrapped up.
Even after taking a 3-0 series lead, Todd McLellan said "Don't give us a passing great yet because we're still taking the test." After losing badly in the last game, there is no way this team is overconfident. Two Los Angeles Kings were part of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers that came back from a 3-0 deficit.
Patrick Marleau is the longest-tenured Shark. He summed up the team's mindset after putting the Kings in that spot with his game-winning, overtime goal Tuesday: "It feels good, but there's a long way to go."
San Jose will not let Los Angeles up because that would put the series in jeopardy. It would mean needing to win in a building that has been tough on this team, or having to face the prospect of a full-on choke against a Pacific Division rival riding three straight wins in the series.
The San Jose Sharks will show no mercy because they want revenge. This team plays well against teams it loses to in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks lost to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Western Conference finals. They have now won 10 of 11 against them, including a sweep in the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
San Jose lost to the St. Louis Blues in 2012 and had the added motivation of a dangerous, dirty hit on Dan Boyle. They won all three games this season, with two in dominating fashion.
This time, the Sharks are not only avenging a seven-game playoff series loss. The Los Angeles Kings took liberties at the end of the last game. Their captain committed a questionable hit that almost ended Tomas Hertl's rookie season. They are bitter Pacific Division rivals.
There is just too much motivation for the superior San Jose team to not come away with a win at home: 3-2 in overtime on well over 40 shots.