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The sandpaper crew made Wilson look smart in Game 2 last Friday night. Both Malhotra and Nichol scored in San Jose's 6--5 overtime win, which saw the Sharks come back from five deficits. Those rallies "speak to our resilience," said Malhotra, who won eight of his 10 face-offs and scored just the second playoff goal of his 12-year career. "Everybody provided energy."
But not everybody provided offense. None of the goal scorers in Game 2—Malhotra, Blake, Nichol, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi—skate on the Sharks' top line. Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton amassed an eye-popping 103 regular-season goals this year. After playing as a unit for Team Canada at the Olympics, they were dubbed the Gold Medal Line. But through three playoff games, the trio had produced zero goals and was in danger of being renamed the Zip Line.
The chronic lack of production from "the Big Boys," as Wilson calls them, is the single biggest reason for San Jose's perennial springtime fade. It's a sensitive subject in the dressing room. Marleau and Thornton are huge talents and good guys: selfless, kind, friendly. But for the last three seasons they've disappeared for long stretches in the playoffs. Following the Ducks debacle Wilson faced considerable pressure to unload Marleau. Whether it was a gesture of loyalty to a 12-year Shark or the result of not finding enough trade value for him, he couldn't bring himself to trade the leading scorer in team history. He did, however strip him of the captaincy.
It had to be done. In 2007, with the Sharks leading their second-round series against Detroit 2--1 and nursing a one-goal lead in the final seconds of Game 4, Marleau, looking for an empty netter, got caught cheating on the wrong side of the puck. The Red Wings broke in and tied the score. Detroit won that game and, eventually, the series.
In the second round against Dallas the next year Marleau committed his notorious "bunny hop," elevating off the ice to avoid a Mike Modano shot that found the back of the net. It's bad enough to bunny hop, it's inexcusable when the hopper is also the captain.
It was telling that when Wilson relieved Marleau of the C, he didn't hand it to Thornton. It's not completely fair to dis Jumbo, as the 6'4", 245-pound center is known, for failing to pile up playoff goals. A born playmaker, he led the league in scoring five years ago with 125 points—96 of them assists. But his playoff scoring average has long lagged far behind his regular-season production.
"When the pace picked up in the Olympics, Joe didn't always have the easiest time keeping up," says one Western Conference scout. "[When] the speed of the game goes to a really high level, he's not as special a player."
Heatley was supposed to pick up that slack, and his hard-nosed play won the respect of teammates. "It isn't just that he scores," says Sharks defenseman Doug Murray. "He scores from the right areas"—those bitterly contested square feet in front of the net. "He scores important goals. He likes the big stage."
The stage certainly was not small late in the first period of Game 2 when Heatley had the puck on his stick and Anderson on his belly, but his point-blank shot hit the crossbar. It didn't matter. San Jose's second line of Pavelski, Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe saved the day with three goals. Call them the Bailout Line.
But there was no bailout forthcoming against the upstart Avs on Sunday night. With Heatley out of the lineup, suffering from an undisclosed injury, Marleau and Thornton went goalless again, and the Sharks failed to cash in a pair of third-period power plays.