The term “battleability” is usually confined to fantasy games in which kids—or grown men who cannot play real-life sports—trade cards displaying superpowered wizards, dragons, gnomes and ninjas. San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan dropped the gem in a much different way Sunday.
Praising his club’s pluckiness just minutes after San Jose went ahead 2-0 in its second-round playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings, McLellan said his guys were playing their best hockey to date and showing more “battleability.” The Sharks had scrapped, clawed and gnashed their teeth to an overtime victory Friday and a 2-1 win Sunday; showing the Red Wings the door back to Detroit and not minding one bit if it hit them on the way out.
The list of contributors in San Jose’s first two games this series is unexpected but absolutely welcome. Two defenseman (Ian White and Niclas Wallin) not exactly known for their scoring prowess each found the back of the net for the Sharks’ goals in Game 2; Benn Ferriero—whom we’re pretty sure was the only person in the Shark Tank wearing a sweater with that name on it Friday—celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring the winning goal in Game 1. And Antti Niemi has regained the form he showed at the end of the regular season by stopping a redonculous 97 percent of shots on goal.
And then there’s that Polish prince of a man, Joe Pavelski, who basically guarantees victory every time he scores a goal. One lovely little piece of inductive logic on dynamo Joe: The Sharks have won their last 11 playoffs games when Pavelski places a puck past a goaltender.
With games in Detroit scheduled for 5pm Wednesday and 4pm Friday, the Sharks are just two victories shy of making a return to the Western Conference finals. But “Hockeytown” isn’t expected to roll over, not if Pavel Datsyuk and a recovering Henrik Zetterberg have anything to say about it. San Jose could end up returning home to HP Pavilion to host a game Sunday, but for now we’ll leave the hypotheticals to a minimum.
The Sharks are winning, local businesses are booming on game days and the general mood of fans is slowly meandering away from trepidation to a modest amount of temerity. People are starting to believe.
Battleability—it’s a slogan San Jose’s coach and players can hang their helmets on. It might be about as refined as a cross-check, and even McLellan admits he’s not sure it’s a word, but no term in the clichéd lexicon of professional sports seems to come as close to describing what it will take to dominate in a game well described as controlled chaos.