Sunday April 26th, 2009

Since the beginning of this series, San Jose coach Todd McLellan has preached a simple lesson to his club: at this time of year, will is more important than skill.

Judging by the relatively passive resistance the Sharks had offered the Anaheim Ducks through the first four games, they might have heard him but they didn't really listen.

Inspired, no doubt by fears of an early summer, that lesson finally sank in Saturday night as the team's most maligned performers, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, teamed up to lead the Sharks to a 3-2 OT victory that extended the series to a sixth game (BOX | RECAP).

If McLellan ever needs video evidence to remind his often lethargic stars of what can be accomplished by fully engaging in the fray, he only needs to show their Game 5 performances. It was clear from the opening faceoff that both players arrived with a focused sense of purpose and a strong tailwind of desperation.

The duo was barely recognizable as the pair of purported stars who loafed through great expanses of the first four games. Both Marleau and Thornton engaged Anaheim defenders with malice aforethought, applying the body liberally in the offensive zone to soften up the Ducks. Both peppered the brilliant Jonas Hiller with rubber -- each counted for five shots on the night. And both went to the net with purpose.

Pretty? No. But plenty effective. And clearly the blueprint for any future success these Sharks might have.

The first goal was set up by Marleau, who drove through the slot before rifling a wrister off Hiller's mask. Thornton, positioned just four feet out, chopped in the rebound for his first postseason goal in 11 outings.

Marleau's winner was just as ugly. Early in the extra stanza, Thornton carried the puck in the Anaheim zone and fired a shot that Hiller kicked out. Wisely, Thornton continued to the net, grabbed his own rebound and got off another chance. That generated another rebound that he carried behind the net for a wraparound attempt. Marleau beat his check and began jamming away at a puck that Hiller never quite corralled. Seconds later, the game was over and the Sharks had earned at least one more crack at the Ducks.

All because they finally committed to doing whatever it took to get the puck over the goal line. And their effort carried over to the rest of the team, with players like Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe offering up their most determined efforts of the series. Amazing how that leadership thing pays off when the players everyone looks up to strip off the D&G suits and slip into some dungarees and hip waders.

It was obvious from the start that Thornton and Marleau would not let the Sharks swim quietly into that good night. What remains to be seen is whether this was a one-off effort, or the start of something that could take San Jose the distance.

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