SAN JOSE -- The Sharks do not want to carve out their little corner of infamy as the fourth team in NHL history to lose a best-of-seven playoff series after winning the first three games.
And coach Todd McLellan made it clear that you didn't need to look too far down the depth chart to find the veteran players who need to rediscover their games if San Jose is going to advance past the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.
"When I look at this series, our core, our high-end players if you will, got the better of theirs in the first two to three games and it certainly has swung in their favor now," McLellan said Tuesday. "We have to get a winning performance out of a lot of players who maybe have not had that over the last little bit. But we're counting on it tomorrow."
The numbers spell out the problem.
The Sharks, like any NHL team, rely on their top two lines for the bulk of their offense. Seven forwards have skated on those two lines in this series -- five veterans and two rookies -- and their production has been in freefall after a strong start.
Those seven -- Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Brent Burns, and rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto -- combined for 12 goals and 25 points over the first three games. In the three losses, they've been held to five points -- with the rookies accounting for two of them.
Pavelski had four points in the first three games, one in the past three; Thornton and Couture each had three points in the wins, none in the losses. Marleau's production dropped from five points to two, Burns's from three to none.
As the Sharks have struggled, the Kings top players have thrived. Forward Justin Williams, whose two goals were the difference in San Jose's 2-0 loss in Game 7 to these same Kings a year ago, has five goals and an assist in the past three games; Anze Kopitar has three goals and two assists over the same period.
The Sharks top players have gotten the message.
"It's always one of those things where you've got to perform and we haven't been up to par with that the last few games. It's on us," said Pavelski, who is scoreless with only one shot on net in the past two games. "But it's everybody. We all need to play a good team game."
Marleau acknowledged the need for top players to step up.
"You want to help the team. You want to get on the scoreboard," said Marleau, who won Game 3 with an overtime goal but has been blanked in the past two losses. "Everybody has got their role and everybody has got to play it."
Even as McLellan put his top players on the spot, he expressed faith in them.
"For us, we believe in that group and if we want to have success it has to go through our core," the coach said. "They have to find ways to elevate their play and carry the team, and everybody else has to follow them. Some of those players have had good looks, some open nets that they haven't scored on. That's all in the past now."
Four of San Jose's core players can draw upon their 2011 playoff experience when San Jose also jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then needed seven games to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings and advance to the Western Conference finals. That game, like this one, was on home ice."
"We were a confident bunch," Thornton said. "We felt like our game was missing in a couple games, but then we slowly got it back. This year is kind of the same way."
If the Sharks do not get past Los Angeles, they will join the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2010 Boston Bruins as teams that could not close out a playoff series after going 3-0.
But after those first two victories by a combined score of 13-5, San Jose would have the distinction of having lost a series that it totally dominated at one point. Each of those other teams won their three games by a combined five or six goals; the Sharks had a goal differential of nine.
None of that matters now, the Sharks stressed, as they prepared for a seventh game in a series that many predicted would go that far in the first place.
"We probably didn't expect to get to Game 7 this way, but we knew it was a real possibility," Pavelski said. "We're here now and guys will be ready to play."