In my series opening feature, I offered one piece of advice: Expect the unexpected.
It’s not to say the Sharks weren’t capable of jumping out to a two-game lead, on the road. But when you consider how their regular season ended (1-4-1), how Anaheim’s schedule closed out (seven-straight home wins), and how tight all their games with the Ducks were (three of four finished via shootouts), nothing entering this matchup was a guarantee for San Jose.
Statistics say teams with a 2-0 lead go on to win an NHL playoff series 82 percent of the time.
Furthermore, the Sharks have taken 2-0 series leads on the road three times before in franchise history (1995, 2013, 2016) and ended up winning every time.
San Jose has put themselves in an excellent position, in a round where the temperature might have just doubled from Game 1 to 2.
But make no mistake, there’s still long roads ahead for this group.
1: Anaheim threw the first punches on the scoreboard, and ice, but the Sharks response was even greater
As if their first goal :41 seconds into the game wasn’t enough of an eye-opener, the Ducks clearly executed on a more physical game-plan right off the opening draw. I won’t expand into the nature and/or legality of contact, but lets just say there were some “borderline” plays at best. Lindholm on Kane, Beauchemin on Labanc, Rakell on Braun, Perry on Karlsson. You get the idea. But the bottom line is how the Sharks ultimately responded: by lighting the lamp in repetition. They got the middle 3 goals in the game, and fended off Anaheim’s scoring and physical pushes. That response spoke louder than any of the Ducks’ actions.
2: Anaheim’s lack of discipline has been costly, but in two different ways
In Game 1 it was the frequency of penalties: seven minors to be precise. In Game 2, it was the timing of the penalties: one example would be Perry running Karlsson and getting 2 minutes for interference - with his team down a goal, and less than 4 minutes left in the 3rd period. Not an outstanding time to be shorthanded. Similar to when Brandon Montour went in the box at 13:37 of the first for hooking. The Sharks were already making a push, and with the extra attacker scored about 1 minute into their Power Play on Couture’s first of the playoffs. It makes you wonder, do the Ducks even have the ability to get away from their penalty problems if it becomes THE prime concern of the series?
3: The Sharks depth is on full display
San Jose has six goals in the first two games, from five different scorers. This was actually a weak point of the team’s Stanley Cup Final run two years ago: the reliance on a limited amount of players to get goals. Nowadays it’s more than just Burns, Pavelski, and Couture… Kane, Hertl, and Sorensen have all picked up markers, and you get the feeling a few more new names will emerge sooner than later.
4: The Ducks have been here before
Specifically last season. In Round 2, Edmonton rolled into Honda Center and took Games 1 and 2 from Anaheim. Sound familiar? The Ducks responded by winning 3, 4, and 5. And ultimately beating the Oilers in 7. While the Getzlaf-led Ducks are feeling sore and sour right now, don’t think for one second they aren’t reflecting on being in this predicament before. The Sharks have faced other playoff opponents over the years who were not as post-season-savvy as these Ducks are. Experience is two-sided in this matchup, and neither team will be folding until somebody has four wins.
5: All of this buys Joe Thornton time
I promise Jumbo won’t be part of all my written pieces. Although it is fun to see him in warmups. And as Logan Couture told us Saturday, Joe’s presence alone on the road trip is fun: “He’s positive, everyone looks up to him as a leader." I have no great knowledge of how that right knee is progressing. Nobody does except Joe and the doctors. And it’s not in their best tactical interest to share, so don’t hold your breath. But holding a 2-0 lead means one of two things: You're going to win this series, and play into the month of May with Round 2. Or, this first round will go the distance and chew up some more time to recover. I’m not sure what we’d eventually get from No. 19 in different timeframes - but I know this early success and the time it buys certainly can’t hurt.