DENVER -- If you want to know why Canadians consume so much beer, please consult what happened here Sunday night. Hockey, a sport invented by our friends in the Great White North, was obviously designed to drive a person to drink.
Evgeni Nabokov, feel free to buy out a liquor store.
How does a team lose a playoff game in overtime without the opponent even taking a shot?
How does a team completely control a hockey game and fire 93 pucks toward the opposing net and fail to score even once?
The Sharks have had some heartbreaking Stanley Cup playoff defeats over the years. But none like Sunday. Not even in one of their bad dreams.
Although let me introduce you to their new official team mascot, Freddy Krueger.
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle conceded he was going to have nightmares after he launched the puck that somehow wound up in his own team's net for the only goal in a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Meanwhile, the rest of the Sharks were just stunned.
"I didn't see the goal," said center Joe Pavelski, who was on the bench at the time. "I don't know exactly what happened. It's crazy goals. It's playoff hockey."
"I didn't see it, either -- I will have to see the tape," said Craig Anderson, the Colorado goalie who kept the Avalanche in the game by saving 51 of those 93 Sharks shots as the others were either blocked or missed the net.
In what other sport can almost no one see what really happened, but everyone agrees it did? The Sharks dominated Game 3 against the Avalanche, dominated it so totally that Colorado's players went stretches of 10 and 12 minutes in which they barely touched the puck.
And then, 51 seconds into overtime, as the Sharks continued to totally dominate, they somehow totally managed to totally dominate themselves into a loss--on Boyle's innocent backhand pass to a teammate that was ticked by the stick shaft of Colorado centerman Ryan O'Reilly, a 19-year-old rookie who, of course, also had no clue what had happened.
"Overall, they outplayed us today," O'Reilly said, speaking of the Sharks, then used Anderson's nickname to salute his own goalie. "Andy kept us in it. Andy deserved this one."
Fair enough. But there's no way Nabokov deserved it. I witnessed the winning sequence with my own eyes, and I still don't believe it occurred. In fact, you might want to close your eyes while reading the next couple of paragraphs.
(I know, that makes no sense at all. But trust me. It was that painful to see.)
The Sharks won the overtime faceoff. They took the only shot of the extra period. The Avalanche needed almost 45 seconds to regain the puck and dump it into its offensive zone as it made a line change.
Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray retrieved the puck in the corner to the right of Nabokov. Murray was chased by O'Reilly--so Murray did the proper thing and deftly dropped off the puck to Boyle.
(This is the part where you really want to close your eyes.)
As O'Reilly left Murray and came back toward the puck, Boyle attempted to toss it back to Murray, who was now behind the net. Instead, the puck ticked the shaft of O'Reilly's stick and squeezed past Nabokov, who was properly positioned, hugging the right post. But there was just enough space for the puck to somehow find the net.
Game over. Ridiculously so. But over. The Sharks trail, two games to one.
And now what? Good question. Both of the winning goals scored against Nabokov were directed toward the net by his own teammates. In Game 1, the puck ricocheted off the skate of defenseman Rob Blake. Now, this.
"It is what it is," Nabokov said. "We can't change what happened. But we should be proud of the way we played."
This is what he meant: Sunday night, for the first time in this series, the Sharks looked like a No. 1 seed playing a No. 8 seed. Actually, they looked like a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 30 seed. After an early back-and-forth with the teams trading chances and power plays, the Sharks glommed onto every rubber disk in the building and seldom let them go.
Even with their second-leading goal scorer, Dany Heatley, absent due to injury, the Sharks were relentless. There were shifts when the Sharks kept the puck inside the Colorado zone long enough to register to vote.
But to win, a puck must cross the goal line. The Sharks needed to bury the puck on one of their six power plays.
Anderson kept saving and saving and saving.
Some of the saves were lucky, some were beautiful. I'm also not sure, but I believe at one point, a volcanic ash plume kept the puck out of the net for the Sharks. Could it all have been Anderson? Apparently it was.
"It's been the weirdest series I have played," said Colorado defenseman Adam Foote, who was on the ice for his 165th playoff game Sunday.
No doubt, it will take all of the Sharks' mental toughness to get over Sunday and come back to win the series. If they don't, it will be enough to make a man ponder if the franchise is cursed. Sunday night, it was the Curse of O'Reilly.