SAN JOSE -- If the Sharks pull off a Game 7 victory Tuesday night at Staples Center and win a fairly epic playoff series, it will have a lot to do with their desire and their focus and their "battle level" and all of those other hockey cliches.

It also might have something to do with the note that Sharks winger Brent Burns found the other day in his dressing stall.

Well, it wasn't really Burns' stall. It was the stall of teammate Adam Burish -- except Burish had moved all of his equipment to Burns' usual stall and vice versa.

The result: When Burns came off the ice at the Sharks' practice facility, he found his stuff in Burish's normal spot -- along with the autographed note, which said:

San Jose Sharks’ Patrick Marleau (12), Joe Thornton (19) and Logan Couture (39) celebrate the 1-0 goal against Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan
San Jose Sharks' Patrick Marleau (12), Joe Thornton (19) and Logan Couture (39) celebrate the 1-0 goal against Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) in the first period in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, May 26, 2013. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

"KEEP WORKING HARD AND ONE DAY YOU'LL BE LIKE ME! YOUR PAL, ADAM BURISH #37

P.S. HIT THE NET."

Burns took the prank in stride.

"You can't look away from that guy for a minute without him doing something to your gear," Burns said, shaking his head and smiling.

It was another example of how, yes, this 2013 version of the Sharks is indeed not the same as past versions, especially in the midst of a grinding and tense playoff run. With an influx of unique personalities into the room -- the free-spirited and multitattooed Burns himself is another example -- the current Sharks have a far looser vibe. It's not a forced story angle by the media. It's a real thing. We'll find out Tuesday whether it's real enough to label this group a true Stanley Cup contender.

The Los Angeles Kings should have all the pressure on them in Game 7, playing at home as the defending NHL champs. The Sharks should let it all hang out. They also might consult a precedent.

In the 2010 baseball playoffs, the Giants famously put together a roster of what manager Bruce Bochy called "misfits" and rode their underdog role to a World Series title. Todd McLellan, the Sharks' coach, has a similar phrase he uses for the men on his team who've brought unique glue to the group. McLellan calls them the "unusual suspects."

McLellan does not know how or when he came up with the phrase. But it fits. There is Burish, the prankster. There is Burns and his Sasquatch facial hair. There is Scott Gomez, the chatterbox veteran. There is TJ Galiardi, who took a stupid interference penalty in Game 5 against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick that helped lead to the Sharks' defeat -- but then came back Sunday to score the eventual winning goal in Game 6.

"There's a different feeling," said Logan Couture, standing across the room. "Guys are having fun with this."

The Stanley Cup is supposedly the hardest trophy in sports to win. That's debatable. But you can make a good case. With such intensity on the ice, getting bones rattled every other night and skin scarred with pucks and sticks ... the last thing a team needs is to make the off-ice time a burden. Frequently, when the Sharks have been a top favorite to win the Cup, they have gripped their sticks too tightly.

"You can tell that when we're at ease, we play a little better," McLellan said again Sunday before the team left for Southern California, later adding: "The unique thing and great thing about our team right now is that they're playing for each other."

That may or may not have been true in the past, McLellan implied. Team chemistry is a strange formula. Joe Thornton has a congenial and fun-loving personality and often tried to keep the room relaxed but during the playoff gantlet also needed to carry a serious role as team captain. Patrick Marleau, the Sharks' all-time leading playoff scorer, isn't outgoing by nature. The "unusual suspects" could be taking an emotional load off both men.

The Sharks' reputation as an annual springtime anticlimax is well known. But it's based largely on the times they've lost in the playoffs as a higher seed -- including the epic flameout in 2009 as the No. 1 seed against No. 8 Anaheim. It only seems proper to also note that over the years, the Sharks actually have won more playoff series as a lower seed (six) than they've lost as a higher seed (five).

What does that suggest? That as a franchise, on balance, the beloved Los Tiburones have more frequently performed better as underdogs than they have performed worse as favorites. The current Sharks proved this theorem true in the first round again, when as a No. 6 seed they upset the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks.

Now they've got another chance to prove it against the Kings. The Sharks already have fought back from so much in this series -- the crushing final-minutes loss in Game 2, the suspension of Raffi Torres, the leg injury to Couture -- that it's hard to believe they will come up flat Tuesday.

"We don't feel like underdogs," said Thornton. "We feel like we have a good team."

McLellan might want to copyright his phrase. If his team goes another round or two, "The Unusual Suspects" could be the title of a pretty cool screenplay.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.