First off, let's not get carried away with any sad violin symphony for fans of the San Jose Sharks. These are fans who have been treated an an awful lot of wins in the past 20 years. The Sharks have six division titles since 2002 and have missed the playoffs only once since 1997. They have already clinched a playoff berth for this spring and might win another division crown.
I have a friend from Portland named Arian Durst, however, who gets a little morose this time of year. He's like me, or at least like the old me, when I grew up a big Boston Red Sox Fan. While the Sharks are cruising to another playoff appearance, Arian is wondering: What's gonna go wrong this time?
The Stanley Cup visited the Oregon Historical Society the other day, and Arian posed with it for a picture. A frown was etched on his face.
"I've become so desensitized to it that the regular season and even the first two rounds mean nothing to me, honestly," he said. "There's just been so many failures with everything, on paper in place, that anything less than a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals seems like just another failure."
Durst doesn't get much sympathy from his wife, Erin, though. She loves him and all, but she's a Colorado transplant and can't help herself when people ask every year why there is a Sharks ornament on the family Christmas tree and none for her team, the Avalanche.
"I say 'I don't need an ornament. I have two championships from MY team,' " Erin says.
Can the Sharks of 2014 be the Red Sox of 2004? Can they finally stop choking in the playoffs and win the big one?
Like I said, let's not get carried away. The Sharks have only been a franchise since 1991. The Red Sox went 86 YEARS without winning a championship. The St. Louis Blues have been in the NHL since 1967 and still haven't won a Cup. The Vancouver Canucks are a 44-year-old franchise, still without a ring.
The Buffalo Bills. Fans of all Cleveland teams. There are others who have suffered more.
Still, the "Sharks and their history of playoff futility" has become a thing. A big, fat, elephant-in-the-room thing.
They won four straight Pacific Division titles from 2008-11, posting point totals of 108, 117, 113 and 105. They made it to the Western Conference finals in those last two seasons, and everyone in Silicon Valley went in feeling good about their chances—having come off conference semifinal wins both times against the Original Six Detroit Red Wings.
The Sharks won one game in those two series, against Chicago and Vancouver.
San Jose swept Vancouver in the first round last season, getting everybody all excited again. Then they lost in seven games to the hated Los Angeles Kings.
Despite losing to the Avalanche on Saturday (advantage, Erin), the Sharks clinched another playoff berth. They have 103 points, a plus-48 goal differential (232-184) and, at the very least, home-ice advantage locked up in any first-round playoff potential series (probably against the likely-third-seeded Kings, as Anaheim is a point ahead with two games in hand).
So, time to get excited, right?
I mean, this team can do it! Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Antti Niemi. The talent is there; the pieces are in place! This is a very good team. San Jose does so many of the fundamentals right, which should translate well to playoff hockey. Let's start with faceoffs: the Sharks lead the league winning draws, at 53.1 percent. Puck possession matters all the time, but it matters even more in a best-of-seven playoff series.
The Sharks also kill penalties very well. Their 84.3 percentage is seventh-best in the league and second-best in the Western Conference, behind only St. Louis. San Jose is the fifth-stingiest team in the NHL when it comes to shots on goal allowed, at 27.7.
Meanwhile, the Sharks average the most shots on goal in the league, at 35 per game. These are great numbers!
The law of averages have to balance out eventually. This really could be the year for the Sharks based on all those numbers, right? Right??
"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, etc." Arian Durst said.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995 for The Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @Adater
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