Sharks loose with Game 7 looming

Blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Kings would indict the Sharks beyond repair in some people's minds, even if the series pitted two Cup contenders right out of the gate.

Three years ago, when the Sharks nearly blew a 3-0 series lead to Detroit, it was Marleau who produced the game winner, a perfect script given the individual criticism he has taken over the years come playoff time.

The veteran winger, a terrific performer for Team Canada in Sochi this year, said Tuesday that the message in the room was a positive one ahead of Wednesday's Game 7.

"Just one of the things that we worked hard all season to have a Game 7 on home ice,'' said the soft-spoken Marleau. "We want to take full advantage of that with our home crowd. It doesn't really matter how we got here, but we're here now, to go out and enjoy it and have fun with it."

Two key areas the Sharks must shore up in order to win Wednesday night:

1. Tighten up defensively: The Sharks over the past few games are giving up way too many odd-man chances, playing into the Kings' hands. L.A. was the stingiest team in the NHL this season. Forget that they scored 13 goals on them in the opening two games. The Kings are back to being the Kings. So be patient. Don't force things offensively and produce turnovers.

2. Get better goaltending: Antti Niemi gave way to backup Alex Stalock for the Game 6 start, and while Stalock was OK, in the end it wasn't good enough. Head coach Todd McLellan wouldn't tip his hand Tuesday, telling the media that he told both goalies to be ready for a Game 7 start. It probably makes sense to return to the more experienced and Cup-winning Niemi, but he's going to need to be much better than he was in Games 4 and 5 for the Sharks to prevail.

Because one thing is for sure, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick is back to being the money goalie we all know him to be. The Sharks won't get any easy ones on him Wednesday.

The Kings, now looking again like the made-for-playoffs machine they've been the past few years, well, they smell blood. Who's betting against them now?

A win Wednesday night does not salvage the season for the Sharks. They'll be judged on how they fare against the Anaheim Ducks, too, next round.

But a loss Wednesday night would be a crushing blow to the reputation of an organization that has done so many things right for a decade.

No, this isn't your run-of-the-mill Game 7, folks.

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