Antti Niemi

Gutless Patrick Marleau gives Sharks the 3-0 series stranglehold in overtime

The Kings came into Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals like a team that knew their season was on the brink. Now, thanks to a huge backhander from Patrick Marleau in overtime, it truly is.

The San Jose Sharks didn’t rattle off six or seven goals like we got used to seeing at the SAP Center, but they were just resilient enough to get past Los Angeles in what was perhaps their gutsiest game of the season. This was the roller coaster of a game that the pundits told us this series would be. The Sharks continued to throw bodies at the Kings in waves, and they used that physicality to respond when their opponents bounced back on the scoreboard.

MarleauBrent Burns’s changeup goal gave San Jose the lead, but Jarret Stoll and Marian Gaborik pushed Los Angeles ahead. It looked like the Sharks might cede momentum in enemy territory before Matt Nieto (who has been absolutely unbelievable this series) tied it back up. Then Jeff Carter hit back, but more physicality, more grit, and more magic from San Jose’s sensation Tomas Hertl tied it up yet again.

Even with a power play to end the third, the Sharks started to drag. Don’t get me wrong: the hits that Burns, Wingels, and literally every player on the fourth line are throwing around is a welcome change. But this team has been, is, and will continue to be finesse. The scariest prospect of this series was what kind of physical toll it would take, and if you needed visual evidence, it was laid out before you when the Sharks spent three hours in their own end at the beginning of overtime. The age on the blue line showed. Todd McLellan had to use a timeout because Team Teal couldn’t manage a quality clear.

Good thing my mom wasn’t around to see my posture during that extra period because my god was it bad. Honestly, I didn’t sit up straight for three and a half hours, and during that little sequence preceding the timeout, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t breathing. All signs pointed to the Sharks breaking, and yet hockey is a funny, funny game. All it takes is one lucky shot.

I went with Joe Pavelski for the overtime winner because it seems so obvious this season. But at this point in time, why wasn’t Marleau the more obvious choice? His blindfolded, backhand shot was his 101st career playoff point (his 100th came on Nieto’s goal), further demolishing both Jeremy Roenick’s narrative and his Twitter mentions. As San Jose’s longest-tenured chosen one, Marleau bears the burden of the entire organization’s sins, but year after year, the Sharks failures fall far left of number 12.

What doesn’t end up on NHL Tonight are the checks he does throw. What doesn’t end up on NHL Tonight is his leadership in the dressing room. It’s the funniest thing, though: What does show up is all of the game-winning goals that he scores come playoff time.

Roenick has obviously become a punching bag for Sharks fans’ frustrations, but he deserves it for going after the low-hanging fruit. It’s that same bass-ackwards narrative that drives talking heads to say things like “Joe Thornton didn’t have a single shot on goal: #choker” after watching exactly 11 games of the 2012-13 season. (I’ll let you figure out which 11 those were.)

Of course, Marleau doesn’t have to prove anything to Roenick or that talking head or anyone else that criticizes him. He’s only scored 87 goals and dished 89 assists since Roenick’s infamous rant, and now the Lady Bing finalist has his Sharks on the brink of sweeping the dreaded Los Angeles Kings out of the first round in four games.

So am I optimistic about this team’s chances in this series? You bet. And as each game passes I get more and more optimistic about the Sharks chances to get truly deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Antti Niemi has defied his critics (*raises hand*), this offense has stormed the Bastille, and these bangers have shown they can take their opponents off of the balance beam with the body. The Sharks have proven they can win playoff games in a myriad of ways, just three games in. Like I said after Game 1: buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.

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