ANAHEIM — Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger provided the template two years ago. Dan Boyle and Rob Blake are just trying to fit it before time runs out for their San Jose Sharks.
There's little doubt that Niedermayer and Pronger carried the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup title in 2007. The star defensemen repeatedly scored timely goals, delivered countless hits and played enough grinding shifts to make sure the club had at least one of them on the ice at every important moment.
"They've always had that, and I think it's been their anchor for this franchise," Blake said of the Ducks' defensive stars as the Sharks prepared for a crucial Game 4 in their first-round playoff series against Anaheim.
"They've built the team around that," Blake said. "They have two guys that can really play, that can shut you down (defensively), but also provide offense, and that's where they get a lot of their game."
The Sharks have not had such supremely talented defenders in recent seasons, and many thought that absence was the reason they wilted so frequently in the playoffs. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson dramatically addressed the problem in a 24-hour span last July, acquiring Boyle and Brad Lukowich from Tampa Bay one day after signing Blake. Both were major hits in the regular season — and after the top-seeded Sharks stumbled through their first two playoff losses, both veterans delivered. They combined for three goals and two assists in the Sharks' 4-3 victory in Game 3, keeping San Jose off the brink of elimination and gathering momentum for Game 4 in Anaheim on tonight.
Five of the seven goals in the Sharks' 4-3 win in Game 3 were scored by defensemen, including Pronger's first goal of the series.