Quick Round 2 Recap
After Game 3 with the Sharks leading the series 3-0, I was looking like a genius with my analysis of the series. Turns out the Red Wings gave the Sharks all they could handle and more, bringing the series to 3-3 and a monumental Game 7. The Sharks got it done though, preventing what could have been the lowest point in franchise history, choking away a 3-0 lead for only the 4th time in NHL history.
But the important thing is that didn’t happen and the Sharks eliminated the Red Wings for the second year in a row, moving on to face the Canucks for the privilege of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals!
Conference Finals …again
The Sharks are in the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row! This time last year, they had just disposed of the feared Red Wings in 5 games and Sharks fans like me were confident they would be able to eliminate the 2nd-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. It turns out we severely underestimated players like Niemi, Bolland, and Byfuglien. The Sharks were swept by the future Stanley Cup champs. This time around the Sharks are the 2nd-seeded underdogs against the President’s Trophy winners Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks were the President’s Trophy winners for good reason: they dominated the regular season: 1st in goals for, 1st in goals against, 1st on the power play, 3rd in the penalty kill, 2nd in plus-minus. Despite being such a powerhouse in the regular season, they haven’t steamrolled the competition in the playoffs like everyone expected. The Sedin twins, scoring leaders in the regular season, are inexplicably struggling in the post-season: a minus-8 so far. The Canucks played 7 games against 8th-seeded Chicago, and despite expectations, did not have an easy time with Nashville. San Jose is a much better team than either of their opponents thus far, and should give Vancouver a much bigger challenge.
The Captain Joe Factor
The Sharks are playing the best hockey that I have seen them play since I have been a fan. Joe Thornton has shed his “No Show Joe” nickname, setting the example as captain with hard work in all areas of the ice. He has been playing top minutes and despite linemate Patrick Marleau having an off-series, the Sharks’ top line was the best line against Detroit.
“People have criticized Joe Thornton, said he’s not a playoff guy, but the passion he played with [in game seven] is just a clear example of what Jumbo brings to our team. He’s our Captain, he’s got to be our catalyst. It’s going to start with him. He worked extremely hard and it rubbed off on everyone else.”
–Devin Setoguchi after Game 7
Joe Thornton’s performances so far in the playoffs have silenced critics for now–and has earned him attention of a different kind.
Sharks, the Underdogs
Whereas in the series against the Red Wings, opinions were split, nobody is picking the Sharks to win this one. That doesn’t mean anything though. In years past when the Sharks were huge favorites to win it all, they have fallen flat, exiting in the 2nd–even 1st round! Maybe the all that expectation and pressure, now on the Canucks will work to the Sharks’ favor. The Sharks are in for a long, tough series against a team that is on paper is better than they are. However, I think the Sharks are actually playing better, and have gone up against tougher opponents in these playoffs, and I truly believe they can pull it off.
Going further, I believe the Sharks have all the pieces in place for a Cup-winning team: a captain who is showing he knows what it takes to win, a Cup-winning goaltender that the Sharks defensemen are actually playing for, an underrated defense that has been performing well recently, and a team that has overcome adversity and keeps fighting to find a way to win.
Prediction: To the detriment of my heart health, Sharks take it in 7 and go to the Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history! In their 20th anniversary year!
History Will Be Made
The Sharks earned a few more “History will be made” spots out of this series: