We're all still trying to define why this San Jose Sharks team just seems different. There are still 13 wins to go for a Stanley Cup, still nine more to go before the Sharks would have their first trip to a Stanley Cup Final. We've all fallen in love with the Sharks before, only to discover those first few dates hid unattractive deal breakers in the end.
But this Sharks team just seems different. This Sharks team looks like it could be the one.
Balance is the word that comes to mind. These Sharks have such a pleasant mix of youth and experience, of old-man strength (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle) and young-man desire (Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Nieto).
On Tuesday night, the Sharks did something no visiting team had done in the nine most recent playoff meetings between them and the Los Angeles Kings: win. Marleau's backhander on the Sharks' one and only shot of overtime won it 4-3 to give San Jose a 3-0 series lead.
After getting blown out the first two games of the series, the Kings restored some pride in the logo with a strong effort, but San Jose was the better team again and got the final reward. This was the Sharks' fifth straight overtime playoff victory, and it was Marleau's 100th career postseason point.
While everything seems different with these Sharks, it's still the old standbys like Marleau who keep getting it done. I don't think it's any stretch to say this is a likely Hall of Fame player now. Seriously, how many guys have been able to keep their level of play as high as this guy, at age 34? He absolutely does not seem to have lost any foot speed at all since he was a kid, which seems like a million years ago. He seems faster than he was as a kid.
Before Game 3, San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy wrote something that nobody has been able to say with any real tangible evidence in recent years: The Sharks were into the head of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. From that column:
Even the Sharks appear stunned by what they have wrought after two playoff games:
They have proved that Jonathan Quick is a human being.
Quick, the Los Angeles Kings goalie, has traditionally been an other-wordly force when he faces the Sharks. A year ago in a seven-game playoff series between the teams, he allowed 10 total goals and no more than three in a game. Back in January, Quick posted a rare visiting goalie shutout at SAP Center. He has been kryptonite to the Sharks offense. But so far in this series, the kryptonite has been transformed into Swiss cheese.
The Sharks of old might have gone into a place like Los Angeles with a 2-0 lead and taken the night off. Not these guys. San Jose was great in the third period, outshooting the Kings 23-8. The Sharks of old might have gotten frustrated at not winning a game despite such a great third and found a way to lose in OT. Not this one.
The Kings were the better team in OT, but San Jose never looked uneasy. Then came Marleau's goal, the 60th of his playoff career. It had some help along the way, as noted by Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:
Quick was screened. Shot appeared to glance off Voynov's stick.— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) April 23, 2014
There's another thing that seems different with this Sharks team: They actually are getting the bounces, too. It's just so tempting to want to yell "See, this is it, this is the Cup year, we can feel it!"
But, OK, let's dial is back a bit. They still haven't even won the series yet. And this is a Darryl Sutter-coached team they're playing. Said Sutter after the game, per Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times:
Darryl Sutter: "It’s a tough hill and we won’t go quietly away, that’s for sure."— lisa dillman (@reallisa) April 23, 2014
Let's face it though: The Kings are done. They don't have the hunger anymore. Their top guys have played too much hockey the last two years. The Kings defense is starting to suddenly look old and slow, with guys like Robyn Regehr seeming way past his expiration date. Mike Richards just can't score goals anymore, and Quick seems all too human right now in net.
The Sharks will be moving on to the second round soon. They've been there before, been further than that in recent years, even. Some thought those would be the years, too. They weren't.
This one might not be either. But somehow, in a way that's still hard to describe, this Sharks team just seems like it might be the one.