SAN JOSE (AP) — San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan sees no need to remind his team of the precariousness of a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks nearly squandered that advantage the last time they held it, needing the full seven games to eliminate Detroit in the second round two years ago.
With many of the same core players still around, McLellan is content to let past experience serve as the teaching tool heading into Game 4 of the series on Tuesday night at the Shark Tank.
“We just left it alone,” McLellan said. “Our group is mature enough. They should know what’s coming, what to expect and how to respond.”
Given the comments coming out of the dressing room on Monday, it’s clear McLellan is correct. Players echoed the mantra that the fourth win in a series is always the hardest and insisted nothing had been won yet despite a decisive 5-2 win in Game 3 that followed two narrow victories in Vancouver.
“I was here when we went through that and we let a team back into a series,” center Logan Couture said. “Obviously it went seven games. We were fortunate to win it. We let them back in. That’s something we don’t want to do. We want to put them away in Game 4.”
There’s one big difference from that series two years ago when the Sharks eked out three straight one-goal wins to build their cushion over the Red Wings. Their edge over the Canucks so far has been more convincing, especially in the 5-2 thrashing on Sunday.
The power play clicked to tie a franchise record with three goals, the defense kept pressure off goaltender Antti Niemi and the Sharks showed discipline to stay out of the penalty box even when the game got testy.
The Canucks feel there is another factor: embellishment.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa singled out Couture and Sharks captain Joe Thornton for exaggerating contact to draw penalties. Bieksa said Couture flails every time he is touched and blamed Thornton for taking off his glove and shaking his wrist to draw a slashing penalty on Dan Hamhuis that led to a 5-on-3 goal that opened the scoring Sunday.
“Those are two Canadian guys that are supposed to be playing the game with integrity,” Bieksa said. “Maybe our team has to do more of that. Maybe we have to sell calls.”
The Canucks have earned quite a reputation for embellishment themselves over the years with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows considered two of the main violators.
In fact, Kesler crumbled to the ice grabbing his throat after taking a high stick from Patrick Marleau on the helmet strap Sunday. Kesler quickly recovered and stayed in the game for the ensuing power play.
The Sharks had eight power plays in Game 3, while Vancouver got only two chances with the man advantage.
“That’s always something we talk about especially when they have a potent power play like they have,” Marleau said. “At playoff time you have to try to stay disciplined and not let your emotions get the better of you sometimes after the whistle with pushing and shoving.”
The talk of diving may have been a tactic to divert the conversation from Vancouver’s brutal recent playoff past.
After beating the Sharks in the Western Conference finals and taking a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup finals over Boston two years ago, the Canucks have been downright abysmal in the postseason.
Vancouver has lost nine of its past 10 playoff games, having also fallen behind 3-0 in the opening round a year ago to Los Angeles before being eliminated in five games.
The Canucks have 15 goals in that span as a normally potent offense led by the Sedin twins has disappeared of late in the postseason.
“There’s some good chances there 5-on-5,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “So far we haven’t been able to put the puck in the net. I have to believe that for one game we can do it.”
The other big question for the Canucks comes in goal where former starter Roberto Luongo played well the first two games in place of the injured Cory Schneider before Vigneault made a switch from Game 3.
Schneider allowed five goals on 28 shots and was replaced after giving up three in the opening 4:07 of the third period.
Luongo stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief and has a .915 save percentage in this series.
Vigneault said he has made a decision about his starter for Tuesday, but won’t announce it until after he tells the players.
The focus now is on figuring out how to beat the Sharks four straight times after losing the first six meetings between the teams this season.
“I believe we can win one game,” Vigneault said. “We haven’t beaten the Sharks once this year. I believe we can do it tomorrow.”