SAN JOSE -- To better understand how a Sharks team that looked lost on the ice for much of the season became the first NHL franchise to reach the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, go back to mid-March.

General manager Doug Wilson, who does not usually tip his hand before making any moves, let it be known that he was taking an unconventional approach to the NHL's April 3 trade deadline.

"We're both buyers and sellers," he said. And he had a phrase for the moves he was about to make that fit his team's Silicon Valley home: "Refresh and reset."

It was his way of indicating trades that would send veterans Ryane Clowe to the New York Rangers, Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Michal Handzus to the Chicago Blackhawks for draft picks were not a sign he was giving up on the season, even if it appeared that way from a distance.

The buying followed -- first Scott Hannan from the Nashville Predators as insurance for the blue line, then Raffi Torres from the Phoenix Coyotes just minutes before the noon cutoff point.

The transactions had the desired impact. San Jose qualified for the playoffs after a 12-3-1 run, completed a historic first-round sweep of Vancouver and will learn Sunday night whether they will next face the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

The key to the turnaround: speed.

"It's like anything. If you're faster, you're a fraction ahead," Coach Todd McLellan said. "There's more of a tempo to our game right now. It's not always how fast you can skate. It's placing pucks in the right area, it's passing and execution, it's believing you can get it done that makes you a little bit quicker."


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Patrick Marleau, 33, seconds the notion that speed isn't about racing up and down the rink.

"You line guys up on a blue line and blow a whistle, everybody's going to be pretty close," he said. "Obviously, one thing is moving your legs, but you've got to have the puck with you as well. When our passing is on, that's when we look fast and that's when we play fast."

Business considerations were key to trading Clowe, Murray and Handzus, all of whom become unrestricted free agents on July 1. But the three were also among the slower Sharks on the ice. Not that they didn't contribute other ways, but when it came to speed, their departure was addition by subtraction.

Still, there was more to it than that.

Torres's reputation was limited to his hard-hitting, occasionally dirty, style of play, yet he also flies up and down the ice. And that has rubbed off on his new teammates.

"Without a doubt," said forward Tommy Wingels, a linemate of Torres's until the injury to Marty Havlat forced McLellan to rearrange things. "When you see someone else doing it who's very eager to get in there on the forecheck and then play the body and then create a turnover, it's contagious."

Ultimately, the Sharks simply now are more suited to the "north-south" approach to hockey — think of one goal as north, the other as south -- that the organization prized. Less zigzagging down the ice, less slowing things down.

The March 25 trade that sent Murray to Pittsburgh was the first of Wilson's moves and it had an impact in the locker room, as well as on the ice, where San Jose beat Anaheim 5-3 that same night. "We were in a position where we were probably a few games away from a blowup," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Some of us, myself included, it's just not a comfortable situation to be in and maybe it just kind of brought the team together."

Though the Sharks' core remains intact, the team has a noticeably different look and feel.

"I don't know whether it's because Clowe is gone and Murray is gone and Burns is up front, but there's a freshness about them," Ray Ferraro, a former NHL player and current TV analyst, said. "And you haven't been able to say that about San Jose in a long time."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.