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NHL Playoffs 2011: San Jose Sharks Barely Hanging On Heading Into Game 5 Against Vancouver Canucks

The San Jose Sharks are holding on for dear life in the Western Conference Finals against the Vancouver Canucks, but if any team still in can come back from something like this, it's this Sharks team. No, there isn't any kind of historical precedence to cite; the Sharks have been given that "choker" label by more than virtually any team in professional sports. Citing previous points in the playoffs is, well, pointless, because the Sharks have historically fizzled out. 

But this team has felt different all season long, they didn't cruise to the NHL Playoffs as a number one seed who dominated everyone in the regular season. They took losses, and they fought through adversity. They had injuries, and had players like Antti Niemi step up, which led to a long winning streak and a playoff berth that they have utilized well up to this point.

Now they trail 3-1 and are heading back to the Rogers Center to face the top-seeded Canucks. Many have given up within the fanbase, but the majority still believe in this team, and with good reason. Joe Thornton is playing outstanding hockey as of late, and Patrick Marleau is playing with a fire under him that this team sorely needed. Other players like Dany Heatley aren't playing so well, but that can all change at the drop of a hat.

Going into game five, the path to victory is clear for the Sharks: stay out of the penalty box. Every one of these games have been decided by special teams on both ends. There have been some bad calls, but they've been going both ways, and the Sharks need to calm down, and play fundamentally sound hockey. If they can do that, and stay out of the penalty box, they can count on their power play unit to execute.

Of course, the usual suspects will need to have good games, but everyone knows that you can get goals off of Roberto Luongo. It's about time Niemi steals a game, so this writer's prediction is that Niemi plays well, the Sharks get a win despite being out-played in certain statistical categories, and they pick up steam going into game six with the potential of tying the series. Obviously, that's just one of the better scenarios for this game, but the Sharks would probably take that any day.