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THN.com Playoff Blog: Anderson stands on his head, Niemi bounces back in Avalanche, Hawks wins

Craig Anderson earned a 51-save shutout to give Colorado a 2-1 series lead over San Jose. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Craig Anderson earned a 51-save shutout to give Colorado a 2-1 series lead over San Jose. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

What do you do if you’re the San Jose Sharks? What do you do if you’re Doug Wilson?

That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. Wilson sat up in the Sharks box looking down at a team he has constructed with the sole purpose of winning the Stanley Cup. When some of the best players in the league in Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley went on the market, Wilson stepped up and used his organization’s depth and strength to make bold moves to acquire them.

When his team needed veteran leadership, he went out and got Rob Blake and Dan Boyle. When they were seen as too wimpy, he went out and acquired the likes of Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer.

In Game 3 of his team’s first round series, he watched those players thoroughly outplay its inferior opponent. He watched his team throw 51 shots at the Colorado Avalanche and at one point in the game, hold the Avs to no shots while registering 28 straight of their own. He watched his team consistently beat the Avs to pucks, he watched his players buzz around the Colorado net and he watched them continue to have goals snuffed out by the brilliance of Avs goalie Craig Anderson.

And he watched in dismay and disbelief as Boyle scored an own-goal to give the Avalanche the most mind-boggling unlikely and undeserved victory of these Stanley Cup playoffs.

All right, once Wilson finishes walking out of the Pepsi Center and yelling at the hockey gods for cursing him, the first thing he should do is tell his coaching staff and his players not to change a thing. Because if the ice remains this tilted in this series and the Sharks continue to cycle the puck and create opportunities and hold onto the puck for, well, pretty well all the time, they will eventually grind the Avs down and win this series.

What are the chances Anderson will be able to play like that again? Could he possibly have the game of his life twice in the same series?

This has gone way beyond San Jose’s annual gagging act in the playoffs. This goes beyond Joe Thornton’s excel in the big game and Evgeni Nabokov’s spotty playoff record. This was a goaltending performance of historic proportions and even though Anderson is an enormous reason why the under-talented Avs got into the playoffs in the first place, logic would dictate he won’t be able to hold the dam forever. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if Dany Heatley hadn’t missed the game with an injury, his presence and ability alone would have been enough to put the Sharks over the top.

Speaking of great goaltending performances, how about Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks? The Hawks didn’t exactly face the offensive onslaught given up by the Avalanche, but they got the goaltending they needed after failing to get it in Game 1.

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That said, the Blackhawks did all the right things after Niemi fell flat on his face by allowing a terrible goal at a crucial time in Game 1. They didn’t even consider playing Cristobal Huet and his $5.6 million cap hit in Game 2 and did not throw their goaltender under the bus. They said all the right things about having confidence in him and Niemi rewarded their faith by pitching a shutout.

After their Game 1 loss, the Blackhawks looked much more confident, authoritative and in control in Game 2 and they came away with a big victory. The Sharks looked the same and lost.

But if the Sharks are smart – and there’s no guarantee they are when it comes to things related to the playoffs – they’ll do exactly what the Blackhawks did after Game 1 by shaking this loss off and coming out even more dominant on Tuesday night in Game 4.

Let’s see how Anderson handles the onslaught this time.

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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