The San Jose Sharks stunned the crowd at Rogers Arena not once, but twice, beating the Vancouver Canucks two times to open the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Now the team returns home to HP Pavilion with a 2-0 series lead and the chance to turn this series into a laugher.
The Canucks had to play Roberto Luongo in the first two games as Cory Schneider battled injury, but he couldn't be blamed for the Game 1 loss. The star-turned-reserve made a series of spectacular saves that made the Sharks' 3-1 win look a lot closer than it was as Patrick Marleau led San Jose to a dominating opening win.
It looked like Vancouver had battled back to even things in Game 2 with a much-improved performance, but it all fell apart in the last minute. Leading 2-1, the Canucks missed an empty net before Marleau scored in the final minute to send the game to overtime. There, Raffi Torres scored the winner to send the Sharks home leading 2-0.
San Jose celebrated its Game 2 win in a dead silent Rogers Arena, but now the team gets to take the ice before a raucous black and teal clad crowd at HP Pavilion. It's quite the change, but as long as the results stay the same, the Sharks should feel right at home as the series continues.
Can Raffi Torres keep his great play going?
The Sharks are built around Joe Thornton and Marleau, but in the first two games of the series Torres took the spotlight. He punished the Canucks in Game 1, delivering hits all game and helping the Sharks dominate in the Canucks' zone. In Game 2, he made his impact on the scoreboard, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to give San Jose their 2-0 series lead.
Do the Canucks have a mental block in the playoffs?
Two years ago, Vancouver held a 3-2 series lead over Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they have lost eight of nine playoff games since. The Canucks haven't looked good in many of those games either, getting beaten to free pucks, out-hit and lacking the intensity of their opponents.
Maybe this is it for this crop of Canucks. Maybe the Stanley Cup collapse is something they will never be able to get over. That's what it's looked like so far, but there's still time for one of the most talented teams in the league to find its footing.
Can the Canucks get a decent forecheck going?
It has been shockingly easy for the Sharks to retrieve the puck behind their own goal and breakout of their own zone. The Canucks have committed men to the forecheck, but they have been undisciplined and sloppy, allowing the Sharks to not just get out of their defensive zone, but to enter the offensive zone with ease.
Vancouver needs to make things more difficult on San Jose's defensemen, not just in terms of protecting its own defense from Sharks' breakouts, but as a means of creating better opportunities on offense. Nobody is going to call the Canucks overly physical or a punishing team, but like any team, they need a forecheck.