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Sharks, Like Sawchenko, Don’t Show Quit

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Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

ANAHEIM — Zach Sawchenko has had a lot of doubters this year.

I’ll admit, I was one of them.

But for one night, the 24-year-old rookie proved us all wrong and gave the San Jose Sharks exactly what they needed, a solid spot start, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 3-2 OT loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Head coach Bob Boughner was also one of them.

“I thought he stood tall. I thought that he gave us the saves we needed early. He made some big saves to keep the momentum on our side,” Boughner acknowledged. “For his first full start, I think he should be pretty happy with it.”

It was Boughner (surely in consultation with Sharks goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov) who kept riding James Reimer for 13 consecutive starts and two back-to-backs – albeit with a 12-day All-Star break in between – with Sawchenko in the wings. Reimer would get injured in unlucky 13, leaving Tuesday’s tilt in Vegas with a lower-body injury.

I’ll say it again though: The San Jose Sharks were in the playoff race for the better part of Reimer’s recent run. In crunch-time game after game, Boughner went with his veteran netminder over his very inexperienced rookie. It was a heavy workload, but not an extraordinary one for an NHL goalie. Entering the season, Sawchenko was considered the San Jose organization’s No. 4 goalie, behind Alexei Melnichuk.

Anyway, Sawchenko is used to being doubted because of his non-traditional professional background. Even as he languished on the bench for the last five weeks, he knew that he was going to get his chance to lead an NHL team out of the tunnel: “Throughout my journey, that’s the one thing I really held close to me was that belief that I know I can play here.

“For those that are familiar with my journey and what I’ve been through, I knew I could play in the NHL, and I didn’t get drafted. I knew I could play in the NHL and I went to school. I knew I could play in the NHL, when I started playing with the Barracuda.

“It was just a matter of developing your game and fine-tuning your game and you’re able to take that next step.”

If you aren’t familiar, Sawchenko was a highly-regarded WHL goaltender who skipped his overage year to attend the University of Alberta. That’s definitely not a normal path to the NHL: In January, Logan Thompson became the first USports goaltender to start an NHL game since 1990. And two months later, here’s the undrafted Sawchenko, who first signed with the San Jose Barracuda exactly three years ago in Mar. 2019.

Of course, it’s just one night. But here’s to Sawchenko making us all eat our words tonight and for many more nights.

“There’s always something to prove. But I think the biggest thing is it’s a great opportunity,” Sawchenko said. “Anytime you’re wearing a jersey with an NHL logo on it, that’s a great day.”

Speaking of having something to prove, the San Jose Sharks had a lot to answer for after getting humiliated 8-0 by the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

They answered the bell…kind of?

Through two periods, according to SPORTLOGiQ, they were even up on Slot Shots with Anaheim at 11 apiece in All Situations. In the final frame, the last period of a back-to-back, they looked spent, but still managed to defend the high-danger areas at least, keeping most of the Ducks’ shots to the outside. Anaheim had just four Slot Shots in the last 20.

“I thought we competed hard. We got out to a lead. We were physical. We were battling in all the dirty areas,” Boughner said. “We had to battle and I thought that everybody did. I thought that we played in good units of five. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means. But in a back-to-back on the road, in a response game, I was pretty happy with it.”

Look, that’s the litmus test now. The Sharks have lost 12 of their last 15 – that’s 3-8-4 – to fall out of the playoff race. It’s not about that anymore.

On Friday, before getting played like a fiddle by Nashville, Boughner didn’t talk about wins and losses.

“Win or lose, let’s make sure that we come playing with a purpose every night,” he said. “You want to make sure that every night we bring it and we compete and give ourselves a chance. If we’re not good enough that night, at least you [then] feel good about going and executing the game plan and emptying the tanks.”

The San Jose Sharks should feel good about tonight.

For a night, they proved some doubters wrong – yes, I know losing while getting outshot 36-22 isn’t worth raising a banner for, even in San Jose – but the Sharks, like their unheralded goalie has his entire career, showed no quit. They didn’t quit on Sawchenko. They didn’t quit on Boughner. They didn’t quit on themselves.

Heck, the Sharks were even the last ones to leave the ice, after a controversial non-call gave Rickard Rakell the OT game-winner.

The question is the same for both the Sharks and Sawchenko with 26 games to go this season: Can they keep it up?

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