It's sink or swim for Sharks

Sharks forward Joe Thornton looks up from the face-off circle against the Red Wings during Game 6...

Sharks forward Joe Thornton looks up from the face-off circle against the Red Wings during Game 6 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal series in Detroit, Mich., May 10, 2011. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:56 PM ET

SAN JOSE - Will it be seventh heaven or a trip to playoff hell for the San Jose Sharks?

After blowing a 3-0 series lead, allowing the Detroit Red Wings to tie the Western semifinal and force a Game 7 Thursday night at the HP Pavilion, this could be a defining moment for the Sharks and their organization.

They're either going to pull off the victory to regain the confidence of their faithful or they'll go down as one of only four teams to have suffered one of the most monumental collapses in the history of the game.

The Sharks aren't sure if they will have Ryane Clowe back in the lineup. The winger wasn't on the ice Wednesday, after missing Game 6 Tuesday. Coach Todd McLellan said Clowe's upper-body injury is better and the club's leading scorer will be a game-time decision.

With or without Clowe, the pressure is on San Jose big time.

"I don't think we've let them back in it," Sharks defenceman Doug Murray said. "That's not the way I would put it. Beating Detroit 4-0 is a rarity. They've got a great team over there and they've got a lot of pride.

"They've got a lot of veterans who have been in all the situations you can imagine. They've made the playoffs 20 years straight and they've got some guys who've been there almost 20 years. They've been in different situations. We never expected them to quit. We never expected it to be an easy series."

This series has been great if you're a hockey fan and like watching two teams go toe-to-toe, but not if you're sitting in the Sharks dressing room -- where confidence is fragile amid the looming spectre of a blown series.

The Canucks must be having a guffaw in Vancouver as they wait for their opponent for the Western final which will start Sunday. The Canucks went through the same scenario in Round 1 against Chicago.

Heavily favoured, the Canucks' play went sideways after taking a 3-0 series lead and they allowed the Blackhawks to tie the series and force a Game 7 at home. It took overtime for a Vancouver to win and all the Canucks' sins were forgiven.

The Canucks weren't given much of a chance to win that Game 7, and not many believe in the Sharks right now. They made the Western final last spring and if they lose this series it will be a huge step backward.

While the Wings have all the confidence, the Sharks could put all this behind them with a victory.

"Nobody is talking about Vancouver blowing a 3-0 lead right now. They're talking about who they're going to face in the (next) round," Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. "We've just got to win. We've just got to find a way to win a game."

We'll find out what the Sharks are made of. They haven't shown a lot of resilience during their past playoff failures. Most alarming has been their lack of desperation in trying to close out the series.

A lot of fingers have been pointed at Patrick Marleau, but he's not the only passenger. Dany Heatley looks frightened. Joe Thornton appears to be more nervous with each mounting loss.

"I expect the best from each of the 20 guys that will play," McLellan said. "We have to (raise our game). Individually, collectively and as a complete team we have to raise it a little bit because where we've been the last three games hasn't been enough or close.

"We need just a little bit, not much more. I'm not talking 10%, I'm talking a fraction."

A fraction is all that separates the Wings and Sharks now.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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