San Jose Sharks: Why Their Lackluster Season Could Benefit Them in the Playoffs

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIApril 3, 2012

The San Jose Sharks regular season dominance has not led to playoff success
The San Jose Sharks regular season dominance has not led to playoff success

In the last four seasons, the San Jose Sharks have finished with the second, first, second and fifth best record in the NHL. They have been 25-26 in the playoffs that followed.

In 2006, they were the best team from December (after trading for Joe Thornton) through the end of the season. In 2007, they finished the season 13-1-3.

In both seasons they were eliminated by Game 6 of the second round.

In 2004, they sat one point above .500 going into the final game before the official start of winter, but went 33-12-2-3 down the stretch to finish with the third-best record in the NHL. They had the deepest run in franchise history, but still failed to win the conference title.

In other words, San Jose has finished every one of the previous seven seasons under Doug Wilson's tenure as general manager looking like one of the elite teams in the NHL. Yet every year, they have disappointed fans sometime between filing their taxes and Memorial Day.

Sharks fans constantly want to find reasons that better things are ahead in the post-season. The most disappointing team they have followed yet may have provided them one.

If going in hot results in failure, maybe going in struggling can result in success. Even if the Sharks take the final three games of the regular season, their 10-3-1 run would merely make them .500 over their last 28 thanks to the 4-11-3 slump that preceded it.

There is some logic to it, as well. In the previous three first-round series under coach Todd McLellan and the one before that under Ron Wilson, the Sharks coasted into the playoffs. Teams that had to scratch and claw their way in always had more intensity than the Sharks and took early games they should not have.

In 2008, they lost their first game vs. the Flames and dropped the first one in Calgary after taking an early 3-0 lead. They struggled to win the series in seven games, and appeared to have little left for the Dallas Stars in the second round.

In 2009, they lost the first two at home and barely made it back to Anaheim for Game 6. In 2010, they dropped two of the first three to Colorado and needed overtime to get their first two wins before the inexperienced Avalanche team ran out of gas.

Even in 2011, when the Sharks never trailed in a series until the Western Conference Finals, they had lackluster performances in the first round.

The L.A. Kings smoked the Sharks in Game 2 at HP Pavilion to even the first round. The Sharks choked a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 5 that would have eliminated the Detroit Red Wings, then dropped Game 6 to force the series to seven.

When this team comes in riding high, they are complacent.

That professionals fighting for the second-most coveted trophy in the world even get complacent is a problem that has been highlighted ad nauseum. At this time of the year, it is necessary to deal with a team where they are, not where they should be.

Fighting their way into the playoffs will have the team used to playoff urgency so they are ready in the first round. But it will not help them if they do not win the division.

This is not because teams that finish lower than the fifth seed—something guaranteed of any Pacific Division playoff team but its winner—have never won Lord Stanley's Cup. There is always a first.

For years, the only NFL wild card team to ever win the Super Bowl had been the Oakland Raiders in 1980. Then the Denver Broncos repeated the feat in 1997 and the Ravens did it again in 2000.

Suddenly five years later it stopped even being rare, as three teams did it from 2005-2010, including two who barely made it into the playoffs. Now they talk about the team who plays its way in having an advantage.

That could be happening in the NHL. Four of the last eight conference champions have featured a team that finished lower than fifth. A seventh and an eighth seed were one goal away from winning it all.

But for the Sharks, a seventh or eighth seed means playing either the Vancouver Canucks or St. Louis Blues in the first round. In fact, it probably means both if they want to make the conference finals again.

They have one playoff and one shootout win over those two teams combined over the past 13 games and 12 months. That is not by fluke—both teams are better than the Sharks and take them out of their game.

If the Sharks can get the division title, they would face the fourth-place team from the Central Division. That gives them one series they should win, and they may even be able to finish it early enough to be rested for the Canucks or Blues.

That limits the requirement to only one upset to reach the conference finals. It also increases the chance it happens. From there, who knows?