Saturday, April 7, 2012

The 82nd Game

The San Jose Sharks triumphs and struggles throughout this decade have been well documented by hockey fans everywhere. They have missed the playoffs just once since the 1997-98 season and have won the division outright 6 times in that span, including each season for the past four seasons. They have scored monumental upsets and pulled off blockbuster trades. They won the President's Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the most points in the season in 2008-09, and even made the Western Conference Finals last year, the very cusp of the Stanley Cup finals. However, amidst all this greatness, the San Jose Sharks have never won a Stanley Cup. They have never even been Western Conference Champions. Where does all this greatness go? To waste?

No, but...

The Sharks' nucleus of stars is on the decline. They have perhaps 3 more years in which they will have a legitimate shot at winning with this group of players. They must win soon.

They're lucky to even be in the playoffs right now. This season was an anomaly among all the other great seasons the Sharks have had in the last couple of years. They literally sucked this year. Sharks fans aren't used to this kind of hockey, losing hockey. Nobody is sure why it happened. But speculation is out there. Are their stars too old? Should Todd McLellan be fired? Should Thornton and Marleau be traded? 

Tonight, the Sharks have an opportunity to silence the speculators. A win against LA tonight would undoubtedly boost their morale going into the playoffs. We see this every year: a low-seeded, hot team that believes they can win defeats a higher-seeded team that went into the playoffs on a losing streak in a best-of-seven series. To maintain their belief in themselves, the Sharks have to prove that they can perform in the clutch tonight, something they haven't done for the better part of this decade. They have to hit the ice strong, fight for pucks, create scoring opportunities, perform all the typical hockey clich├ęs that define a winning team. This is of the utmost importance, because a win tonight could vault the Sharks up to the 3rd seed if Phoenix loses, therefore escaping a 1st round matchup against the Blues or Canucks. The Canucks were the team that ousted San Jose from the playoffs last year and St. Louis has dominated the Sharks in their meetings this year. Either team presents an almost impossible hurdle, so it is of the utmost importance that San Jose wins tonight against LA and prays that Phoenix loses.

On paper, this is not a do or die game for the Sharks, but emotionally, it is paramount that the Sharks win this game. The Sharks have won 3 in a row, so a win tonight would ensure that the Sharks go into the playoffs with a winning streak. 

The window is gradually closing on the Sharks. They only have a few more chances to bring home a Stanley Cup to San Jose before they go into rebuilding mode. This season, although terrible by standards set throughout the last few years, cannot go to waste. In fact, I believe the Sharks have a better chance this season than the last few seasons.

Why? Because nobody believes the Sharks will win this year. During the last couple of seasons, when the Sharks were killing their division, fans and analysts had high hopes for the San Jose Sharks. They almost always were expected to win their first series and many experts had them winning the Stanley Cup. Eventually, though, their playoff flops turned into a running joke. This year, as total underdogs, they have the chance to show the hockey community that they are for real. The underdog mentality is often undervalued in sports, but it could be a huge asset for the Sharks this season. 

And so, with this new mentality and the realization that they only have a few more years with this team as it currently stands, the Sharks are prepared to shine in this years playoffs. And that all starts tonight, against the Los Angeles Kings.

BEAT LA!

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