At some point during the postseason, the Sharks ceased being a team of the past and took on a new identity, the identity of a poised and confident championship contender playing like they’ve been here before.
They have been “here” before, as in the Western Conference Finals (twice, to be precise), but it isn’t the same.
In 2010, they were haplessly swept by the Blackhawks. In 2011, they lasted just a game further, losing in five to the Canucks on the flukiest of fluky bounces. That year, they held a 3-0 lead in the second round over the Red Wings only to drop three consecutive games and barely eek out a Game 7 win (it would be a harbinger of when they actually lost a 3-0 series lead three years later), those extra games contributing to the poor showing in the next round.
Those were the Sharks of yesterday.
These Sharks, the ones that dominated the Blues in Game 2 of the Conference Finals to the tune of a 4-0 beat-down, are the Sharks of today, and they’re marching toward tomorrow and uncharted territory.
They’ve already put together the greatest postseason in franchise history — albeit the bar was set pretty low. With Tuesday’s win to even up the series at one game apiece, the Sharks have already fared better than their three previous trips to the Conference Finals (they’ve never appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals), which all featured a 2-0 deficit.
This time around, the Sharks have snagged away home ice advantage two games in and head back to the friendly confines of SAP Center, where they have won five straight playoff games.
Sharks Have Had Upper Hand
The Sharks could very well have taken a 2-0 lead back to San Jose. They’ve been in firm control of the series since the second period of Game 1 when they outshot the Blues 16-5 but couldn’t squeeze a goal past Brian Elliot in what ended up as a disappointing one-goal loss.
Game 2 was a different story. They played a picture-perfect road game, jumping ahead early on Tommy Wingels’ wrist shot from the slot, and then capitalized on power play opportunities to grab a 3-0 lead. Defensively, they stymied the Blues, holding them scoreless on all six of their power plays, and Martin Jones stopped the 26 shots he faced.
This game epitomized the potent level of play the Sharks have reached this postseason. When they’re on top of their game, everything clicks and they represent the essentials of winning in the playoffs: Their power play, ranked third in the regular season and first among remaining playoff teams, delivers goals and changes momentum; the penalty kill comes through; Brent Burns, whose booming shot is a weapon, lights the lamp; Martin Jones, who is growing into an elite goaltender before our eyes, makes key stops — and a hot goaltender can go a long ways toward a deep playoff run. And they close out games: the Sharks are now a combined 34-0-2 in the regular season and postseason when leading after two periods.
In Game 2, the Sharks had a game plan, went out, and executed it to near perfection. Compared to postseasons of the past, this would be an anomaly. But this playoff run has proved to be something different. From the swift dismissal of the rival Kings in the first round to the hard-fought seven-game series win over the Predators in the second round, the Sharks have not been fazed in the least with postseason adversity.
Perhaps there were a few brief moments in 2004 and 2010 and 2011, but now, the Sharks have a clear view of making it to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. They’ve shown that they can beat the Blues and continue their trek into uncharted waters.
Eric is a journalism student at the University of Southern California and a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. He grew up in the Bay Area and has followed the Sharks since a young age. He served as a beat writer on the team for SFBay.ca during the 2014-2015 season. Previously, Eric has worked at FanSided and Bleacher Report.