Much like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco Giants of 2010, or even the St. Louis Cardinals of 2011, the San Jose Sharks will be riding a high heading into the 2012 NHL playoffs, giving themselves the perfect chance to make a run in the Western Conference.
Like those aforementioned teams, the Sharks are playing arguably the best hockey of their season at just the right time. The win over the equally hot Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night only proved that this team is ready for the playoffs and will succeed when there.
They proved it by putting up five goals in regulation on goalie Jonathan Quick, who averages 2.1 goals against per game this season. The mass amount of penalties and missed calls did not help either team, but the two teams went at it Thursday night and the Sharks came out the victor in an overtime shootout.
But just how is this Sharks team ready for the playoffs?
The entire season has been a series of ups and downs mixed with a flurry of injuries and inconsistent play. There is nothing to say that those issues will not occur yet again in the playoffs, as well.
However, this team has come together now that they have had the time on the ice together to gel as one unit—that was a clear difference in their play last night. The game had a playoff atmosphere to it, and the Sharks met that expectation by responding several times throughout the game with a mix of fights, defensive plays and clutch goals.
This is the Sharks team we should have seen all along.
That is no ordinary Kings team, either. Whatever seed they receive in the Western Conference playoffs, they have the ability to advance. They are simply that well-rounded.
Are the San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup contenders this season?
But for one night, the Sharks seemed to be the most well-rounded team in the NHL. Goalie Antti Niemi stopped 31 shots on Thursday, including 17 in the first period. He maintained his composure and kept the Sharks in the game at several key points.
Also, the superstars showed up for the Sharks, and they suddenly have been showing up when it matters. We all knew that captain Joe Thornton would lead by example—we just weren't sure it would come in the form of a Gordie Howe hat trick. That seemed to set the tempo for the Sharks in that game.
Ryane Clowe then followed Thornton's lead with a Gordie Howe hat trick of his own, and Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat were each able to get off the schneid and chimed in in the most clutch of moments.
The Sharks are at the height of their season right now. With a win against the Kings at home on Saturday night, this team's momentum could carry them a long way in the Western Conference playoffs—something that should scare their first round opponent, whoever that may be.
If they had written off the Sharks previously, you better believe the Sharks are now on the radar of every team in the NHL right now.