SAN JOSE -- This column comes with a warning: We have been fooled before by the Sharks. They tantalize and then they teeter. They entice and then they evaporate.
But after three straight impressive playoff victories over a Vancouver Canucks team that was a division champion and has a roster laced with skill ... well, there is a sense building that yes, maybe, possibly, perhaps, this could be a different Sharks team.
Logan Couture, the team's new center of gravity, opined as much Sunday night after he scored two goals in the Sharks' victory. Patrick Marleau, the veteran captain, affirmed it straight out Monday.
"It feels different," Marleau said.
It feels different because so far, it is different.
This Sharks team has not just outscored the Canucks 11-5 over the three games. These Sharks have been edgy but not over-the-top reckless. They have been resourceful and exploitive. And they have not relied solely on power plays to make their bones. They have more even-strength goals (seven) than Vancouver (four).
That doesn't mean we are seeing the future 2013 Stanley Cup champions when they take the ice Tuesday night to try to finish off a sweep of the Canucks. It just means that as this group of Sharks moves along through the postseason, it is taking an uncommon approach for the franchise.
For one thing, there's that edgy part. The "e" word has not been associated with the Sharks much in the past. When it was, the whole business seemed ridiculously forced (Ben Eager's wildness in 2011) or strangely calculated (Joe Thornton's opening faceoff fight with Ryan Getzlaf in 2009). The current edginess seems organic and real.
Where did it come from? Many credit the arrival of Raffi Torres, the trade acquisition from Phoenix who arrived with a reputation for disruption and mayhem. But in fact, Torres to date has been a model of hard-nails skating under control. The prickliness might actually be emanating more from Couture, who at age 24 is less afraid to swagger than he was as a rookie in 2010-11. The snap-crackle-pop of Tommy Wingels on the third line also helps.
Another change: One frustrating theme in the past for our beloved Los Tiburones has been that when they take a lead, or post a victory, they fail to follow through with consistent energy -- and through sloppiness or stupid penalties, basically toss away a game that they never get back.
"I think we just get off track," Couture said, acknowledging the issue. "We just need to stay disciplined. You've got to know where the line is -- play hard, but don't play dumb. If it means taking a punch to the face, take a punch to the face and then go on the power play."
The weirdest aspect of this different Sharks team is that it is still a work in progress. It's a product of the lockout-truncated season and coach Todd McLellan's effort to find the right combinations.
The forward line with Thornton, Brent Burns and TJ Galiardi is improvisational theater with a Tasmanian devil (Burns) as a frontman. The second power-play unit is the French Foreign Legion, although it's unclear if any speak French. Sunday night, the unit included Burns (the converted defenseman), Galiardi (who played in the German Bundesliga during the lockout), Scott Gomez (the refugee who landed with the Sharks after being dumped in Montreal), Matt Irwin (a rookie who spent part of this season in Worcester) and Torres (the newly arrived disturber).
At the Sharks' practice facility, on the cabinet doors to the whiteboard on the dressing room wall, a new sign has appeared this season. The sign says: "FAST. HARD. SUPPORTIVE."
The slogan is supposed to remind the Sharks of their identity. But right now, you can add another word: "DIFFERENT." In a good way.
Game 4: Vancouver at Sharks, 7 p.m., CSNCA
Sharks have 3-0 series lead because best players are at their best. PAGE 5