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...