Sharks

Sharks' response to adversity will be critical in Game 6 vs. Vegas

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USATSI

Sharks' response to adversity will be critical in Game 6 vs. Vegas

The Sharks have a tough task ahead of trying to fend off elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 6 of their first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told reporters in Las Vegas before the game that his team isn't the only one to face adversity trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven series.

But how the Sharks respond to that adversity -- whether it be mounting injuries or breakdowns against a hot Vegas offense -- that could be the difference in forcing a Game 7 or not.

"I think that's going on in every dressing room with every team playing right now," he said when asked if San Jose's injury woes through the first five contests give them any more of an edge. "I don't think we're at an advantage because we have more of it."

There also is, of course, the matter of the Sharks playing this potentially decisive game at T-Mobile Arena, which already has a reputation as one of the NHL's toughest barns in its second season. The Sharks have certainly had their fair share of trouble there, particularly in the Games 3 and 4 of this series. But as DeBoer reminded the press, the Sharks haven't always been down on their luck in Sin City.

"We've won in here before," DeBoer said. "We won in here in the playoffs last year, we won in here in the regular season this year." 

San Jose's bench boss added that his team's home isn't exactly easy for opponents to play in, either.

"I think it's the same as them coming into our building," he said. "You've got to deal with the momentum swings and the crowd getting into it, and the push we're going to see right off the bat." 

[RELATED: Burns named Norris Trophy finalist]

Scoring the first goal Sunday will be critical for both teams. The Sharks have won both games in which they scored first, but have all lost all three when the Golden Knights did -- as early as 16 seconds into the game. 

"The first goal is obviously important," DeBoer said. "If we don't get it, then how we respond to that is going to be critical."

At the end of the night, the Sharks' response to adversity could be the difference between winning or losing against a tough Vegas squad.

"You're down to the best of the best, and you're seeing around the league that anybody can beat anybody," DeBoer said. "You need depth, you need health, you need goaltending. It's a battle of attrition and we have to find a way here."

Sharks players praise Bob Boughner's work as interim head coach

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AP

Sharks players praise Bob Boughner's work as interim head coach

Being an interim head coach is never easy. The title itself implies something went wrong with someone previously at the top during the flow of a season, and that was certainly the case when Bob Boughner took over the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019 after Pete DeBoer got sacked.

The once mighty Sharks were floundering, in desperate need of an about face the front office hoped radical change could provide. Team Teal got better but never good enough to make a real playoff push. They even ended up disqualified from an expanded, 24-team playoff format designed to restart the NHL season after pausing it over the coronavirus pandemic, with a long offseason ahead to sort out their issues.

Finding a head coach is definitely one, though after doing due diligence, it’s possible the Sharks simply lift the interim tag off Boughner’s title.

“We have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Bob has certainly got the inside track. … We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

Players don’t have ultimate say in that decision, but they were impressed by what Boughner was able do after taking DeBoer’s place.

“I don’t think he entered a very easy situation,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “He did the best he could with what he had. He clearly thought about what he needed to fix immediately, and also had a long-term plan even though his future was uncertain.

“I think he did the right thing for the team and the organization moving forward. I think he did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. I think we got a boost from [him], but I think we were a little bit too far gone to really be saved.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

The Sharks were 15-16-2 under DeBoer and 14-20-3 under Boughner, though the interim head dealt with season-ending injuries to Karlsson and Tomas Hertl and played several weeks without captain Logan Couture.

Boughner helped improve a porous defense and held players accountable for poor play and missteps. Long-tenured Shark Brent Burns was impressed by Boughner’s effort, seeing a change in his style after return to the team after two seasons as Florida Panthers head coach.

“You could see there was a difference in him from being a head coach during the time he was in Florida, but he was still ‘Bougy,’” Burns said. “He has all those positive things that made him great as an assistant. He learned to be a head coach, so he evolved and became a bit more authoritative. He has the ability to interact with guys like he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’ going on and sees it, but at the end of the day he has a little bit of that “Fear of God” in him.

“I think he learned a lot from Pete, learning from a great coach. He was great before, but you could see he evolved and was better. The atmosphere he creates is good. That’s tough to say with how sh--ty everything was going, but he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.”

[RELATED: Sharks' path back to Stanley Cup contention filled with major hurdles]

Boughner knew most long-tenured Sharks, but also found a way to connect with younger players.

“I learned a lot from him,” defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “He held me accountable out there and gave me a lot of advice as a young player in the league. I like the way he coaches and, if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to be hard on me but show me a way I can improve with video and stuff in practice. The season was pretty hilly for me, and when I was on the downhill, he would try to pick me back up. It’s a privilege to play for him.”

What Logan Couture learned from from first season as Sharks captain

What Logan Couture learned from from first season as Sharks captain

Logan Couture was an obvious choice to succeed Joe Pavelski after his four seasons as Sharks captain.

The veteran center was an alternate captain during Pavelski’s time leading the locker room. He’s a long-tenured Shark with steady on-ice performance and penchant for stepping up in the clutch. The 31-year-old has the work ethic and temperament required of such a post so, after Pavelski signed a three-year with the Dallas Stars last summer, Couture eventually had the “C” stitched on his sweater.

Couture’s first season leading the team was rockier than expected. The Sharks went from Western Conference finalists to cellar dwellers in a flash, with the team adjusting to Pete DeBoer’s in-season firing after a sluggish start and unable to recover while beset by injuries to star players. That included Couture, who missed 17 games with a fractured ankle.

The locker room was admittedly tense during an unexpected downturn, but Couture worked hard to keep the squad focused on playing together under interim coach Bob Boughner.

Couture has had time to reflect on his first NHL experience as captain since the league hit pause on the 2019-20 season in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the distance has provided perspective. While the season went awry, Couture vowed to use those bad times as a way to learn and grow as a leader.

“It was obviously a learning experience in a lot of different situations, many of which I had never been in as a player,” Couture said Thursday in a video conference with Sharks reporters. “We had a coach get fired. We went through tough times, a lot of guys got hurt and we lost a lot of games in difficult ways. Although it was a very difficult, difficult season, that I can learn a lot from situations we were in as a team and I was in individually. My goal is to become a better teammate, person and player from this past year.”

Couture believes the Sharks had a lackluster training camp that led to a poor start, and things spiraled from there. Losing consistently was a new experience for most, considering the Sharks had missed the playoffs only once since the 2003-04 season. The new and difficult experience was uncomfortable, and Couture admits the players didn’t always handle things well.

“When you’re losing and things are going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.

“All we can do now is move forward, come together and learn from this. Everyone needs to buy in. Get a good training camp underneath us and get going from there. Everyone will learn from this year and it’ll make us stronger.”

[RELATED: Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason]

The captain’s lieutenants feel the same push to help the team stay together and improve quickly after a lost season where they didn’t even qualify for a modified 24-team playoff format to be played once the season restarts.

Tomas Hertl also dealt with a knee injury ending his season in late January, but still feels he could’ve done more as a leader.

“I tried to be the same guy and lead, but I know I can be better in that role,” Hertl said. “I should be Logan’s second hand and help him out more and more. I think I learned a lot as well this past season about the importance of being a leader. I think we should all be a little bit better, especially in a situation like we were in where we struggled.

"All 20 guys should work as one. It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant or a captain. Everyone should work hard to keep the team together. I really want to be better for Logan because he has been there for me from the start of my career.”