Perhaps now it's the Anaheim Ducks' turn to grip their sticks a little bit tighter.
The Ducks missed their first opportunity to complete a remarkable playoff upset in Game 5, losing 3-2 in overtime to the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Anaheim now has its best chance in Game 6 Monday night in front of a supportive home crowd eager to witness the Ducks becoming the eighth No. 8 seed to win a playoff series since 1994.
Although coach Randy Carlyle might disagree, Anaheim hasn't faced much external pressure in the all-California series up to this point. Although the Ducks had more talent and a better playoff pedigree than several teams above them in the Western Conference standings, they were heavy underdogs to the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks before winning three of the first four.
With the spotlight trained squarely on the home bench in Game 6, it's tough to predict how the Ducks will respond. They haven't been consistent winners all season long, leading to their low seeding, but the veteran core led by defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger has been in tougher situations.
"I think everybody in this room realizes that this is part of the process," said Ducks rookie forward Bobby Ryan, who missed about 10 minutes of the third period of Game 5 while getting his skate fixed - not because of an injury. "You dwell on (Game 5) for two hours, but then you put it behind you. That's the beauty of the playoffs. When you're in the lead, you're going to get another shot to end it two days later."
But the Sharks also have a shot to force Game 7 on Wednesday back in San Jose - and after four mostly tepid outings, the regular-season NHL leaders finally seem to be heating up a bit.
They gave their most comprehensive effort of the series in their first elimination game, getting goals from all three forwards on their top line: Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Thornton, who had a goal and two assists while playing with a noticeable bad
temper for the first time in the series.
"Their backs are against the wall," Pronger said. "They have to win, or they are done. That's a dangerous position to be in, and we understand that. You saw the way they came out. How we played in the third period (of Game 5), that's how we have to play from the start. You know (Marleau and Thornton) will get their points eventually. It's up to us to shut them down. Hopefully we can do a better job of it Monday."
San Jose also got a boost from a new line of Jeremy Roenick, Jonathan Cheechoo and Torrey Mitchell, who skipped Sunday's practice to rest up for Game 6.
Even goalie Evgeni Nabokov looked solid for the Sharks after a less-than-impressive series, although both goals he surrendered appeared stoppable. Nabokov hasn't been nearly as impressive as Jonas Hiller, the Swiss goalie who stopped 45 shots in Game 5 for his latest gaudy stat line.
Roenick feels the importance of each playoff game in a way most of his teammates can't understand. After 20 years in the NHL, Roenick will strongly consider retirement after the season - and he's still hoping the Sharks have a chance to bring him his first Stanley Cup ring.
"That's what I try to instill in everybody," Roenick said after his club's skate Sunday at the Shark Tank. "Be afraid that this is your last game. Be worried, and then go out and do something about it. ... We carried most of the game again (in Game 5), but we've got to find a way to put the puck in the net. We had a lot of chances."