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Boyle lends a face to Sharks' misfortunes

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Sharks had suffered their share of heartache before Dan Boyle arrived in San Jose, but Sunday night in Denver, Boyle gave the hockey world a face to equate with the franchise's anguish.

The fact that the San Jose Sharks have never won the Stanley Cup, or even reached the Finals, is nothing to be ashamed of for a club that has still yet to reach its 20th year of existence. There are several other organizations that have been around longer and have failed to win a title.

But the Sharks are a victim of their own success in many ways. The club has excelled during the regular season and even won the Presidents' Trophy in 2009.

The presence of stars like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Rob Blake and Evgeni Nabokov, also make San Jose a perennial Cup favorite for hockey fans and media everywhere. But, when the club falls well short of its championship goals, it then becomes easy for those same people who picked them to win it all to pile on the Sharks and their inability to come through in the playoffs.

So, when Boyle accidentally scored the game-winning goal on his own goaltender Sunday night in Denver, it all seemed to make sense.

The Sharks thought they hit an all-time low last year, when they had the best record in the NHL and still lost in the opening round to eighth-seeded Anaheim. But if they get ousted this time around by the No. 8 Avalanche it could hurt even worse, because of the way they've lost the games so far.

On top of losing Sunday on the hockey equivalent of an own-goal, San Jose also dropped the opener in OT when Colorado's Chris Stewart was credited with the game-winner when his centering pass caromed off Blake's skate and into the goal. If there are such things as "the hockey gods", they clearly do not like the Sharks.

Dan Boyle is an underrated player and one of the best offensive defensemen in the game.
Boyle isn't really a star in the Thornton or Blake mold, but he is an underrated player and one of the best offensive defensemen in the game. He also happens to have a Stanley Cup title (with Tampa Bay, 2004) and an Olympic Gold medal (Team Canada, 2010) to his credit.

The Sharks traded for Boyle in the summer of 2008, handing over two players (Matt Carle and Ty Wishart) and two draft picks (1st in 2009, 4th in 2010) to land the then-Tampa Bay blueliner, who signed a six-year, $40 million contract with the Lightning just months before the franchise's ownership changed hands. The Sharks were, and presumably still are, delighted to pay Boyle's salary because he is a proven and reliable weapon on the blue line that they would love to have in their employ through the 2013-14 season.

The 33-year-old Boyle began his professional career by signing with the Florida Panthers as an undrafted free agent after playing four years at Miami-Ohio. Boyle has since compiled 107 goals and 300 assists in 676 career games, and he has recorded both double-digit goals and 50 points or more in five separate seasons.

He also led San Jose in time on ice per game this season, a clear sign of how much faith Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has in the veteran defenseman.

That's what made Sunday's moment so odd. Just 51 seconds into overtime, the usually steady and dependable D-man committed a blunder of monumental proportions. While deep in his own zone near the bottom of the left circle, Boyle tried to backhand the puck around the end boards, a routine play for an NHL defenseman. But on this occasion, the puck didn't bounce harmlessly off the boards because Boyle instead fired a shot on his own goaltender. And it went in.

Some folks feel that Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly's stick deflected the puck and caused it to change directions and head into the net. That could be true - O'Reilly did get his stick in there just before Boyle released the puck - but it still seemed to come off the stick of the San Jose player. And it won't make much difference to Boyle if O'Reilly altered the puck's trajectory. He still had a play to make and when he didn't, that was it. Game over. Avs win, 1-0.

And about that 1-0 score, in Boyle's defense, it's not like his teammates didn't have chance after chance to put the game away before his miscue. The Sharks ended the game with 51 shots on net, including one in the brief overtime period, and Craig Anderson stopped every single one.

Anderson was the best player in this game, but Boyle's accidental goal was so unusual and unfortunate that it unfairly draws the focus away from the Colorado goaltender's superb play in this series. We should be talking about Anderson, who deserves the credit, but it's impossible not to notice Boyle's mistake.

As for Nabokov, the San Jose goaltender made 16 saves before Boyle snuck one just inside the near post.

While the crowd erupted at the Pepsi Center, Boyle skated in front of the crease and swung his stick through the air in disgust. Sure, it was a fluke, but it was a costly one, nonetheless.

"That's pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a player, you know, to put it in your own net," said a dejected Boyle.

It robbed San Jose the chance of firing more shots Anderson's way on Sunday night, when who knows, maybe Boyle would have scored a fluky goal on Colorado's goaltender to give his team the win. If Boyle's backhand clearing attempt goes as planned, as it always had before, the Sharks would still have had a shot to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but instead the Avalanche now hold that advantage.

The damage has been done, but there is still a series to be played. The people who need to pick up Boyle now are his teammates. Especially the offensive players like Thornton and Marleau. Heatley would be in that group as well, but he was a late scratch for Sunday's game and his status is questionable going forward.

The Sharks need to win this series if they want to ease their teammate's pain. If they move onto the next round, they could give Boyle a chance at redemption.

After all, a player of his stature doesn't deserve to be remembered for such an unlucky series of events.

But, if the Sharks lose this series, that's exactly what will happen. Boyle's career, one of a highly-skilled NHL defenseman, will be remembered for one slip of the stick.

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Dan Di Sciullo
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