By Anthony Baldini / @baldinipr
The San Jose Sharks Ascension Tour continued on Thursday night, and it was nuts.
Picture this: A 6-5 game, two minutes to go, Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise banging twice at a puck just outside the crease against an extended Martin Jones pad. Fans yelling with excited unknowingness of what the outcome would be, vocally encouraging in belief of a positive result.
Jones stuck his leg firm and eventually the play turned into a whistle stoppage.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 8, 2019
The fans stood. Energy filled an SAP Center that just a week ago saw the tank lower than normal in attendance and generally unenthusiastic. Sounds of real support replaced that uneasy half-silence of struggle. There was a reason to cheer and feel good about where things were headed.
The Wild pushed hard right to the end in their bid for a comeback, creating a high-octane scramble that saw plenty of shots in the last minute. It was a true battle, and the Sharks held thanks to one more key play.
With four seconds remaining, defenseman Radim Simek blocked a shot with his chest, denying Minnesota their last big chance. The play took solid spacing awareness to make, as the shot came from 10 feet out to Jones’s left on a cross-ice one-timer. Had Simek not rotated, there was a decent chance the game was going to overtime.
The fact that Simek made the play, and not Erik Karlsson or Marc-Edouard Vlasic, is significant because it showcases who he is going to be on this team come playoff time. “Shutdown” Simek is now a thing.
Consider that Simek was out on the ice doing the right things during the most important shift of the game. In just his second game back from his MCL/ACL injury, his play and effect on the lineup can’t be understated. The pairing of Simek and Brent Burns is now the go-to for key moments, with Thursday’s game providing the first proof they can shut the door like a quality closer. Head coach Pete DeBoer is probably already one step ahead with this thinking.
The fact the Sharks gave up five goals to the Wild isn’t lost here, as many sports betting sites had the Wild as favorites. San Jose led 6-2 through two periods until the wheels began to fall off hard. Minnesota has been producing three and four-goals games as of late, but giving up five to them isn’t what you want to see on paper without context. However, within the flow of the game and the moment, all seemed well for the Sharks when the final buzzer sounded.
DeBoer can take credit for part of that, as he got his team back on track and kept course during a pivotal point in the season. It was late in the third period, and the Sharks had just allowed Minnesota to close the gap to one, shortly after they came up empty on an extended 4-on-3 power play. With Minnesota pressing hard, DeBoer took a timeout. It was a moment where the attitude must have been, “Are we going to do this or what?” And the players bought in.
The Sharks could’ve allowed a tying goal over the next five minutes and reverted from the momentum built during the game, which would have killed morale and seriously stunted the progress of their “Ascension Tour.” It’s not hard to imagine them losing a ton of confidence and sinking further if they had let up a fourth straight unanswered goal. But instead they held on. There was moxie. There was chemistry.
Two straight games against bottom-feeder teams resulted in two straight wins for the Sharks. But the wins themselves and the way the team is molding and establishing roles is what’s important.
The Sharks have the feel.
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