Should the quality of a season be determined by a single game? This does not seem fair.
Prior to the Game 7 puck drop on Thursday, the scenario went like this. A Sharks win in Game 7 against Nashville means the season is a success and a huge page is turned. A loss and the Sharks are back to square one. Could that much be riding on a Rd. 2 game? Ask former Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau about how much rides on Game 7. Yes, a lot was at stake.
For the record, the Sharks won by a final score of 5-0. It was not that close.
The Sharks dominated the first period, leading 2-0 headed into intermission. At one point, the Sharks had led the series 2-0, only to see the series tied at three games apiece. They had led Game 6, 2-0, only to see that game tied 3-3 before losing in overtime. A 2-0 lead was reason for cautious optimism, nothing more. About a half-minute into the second period, the cautious part disappeared. Shea Weber fumbled a puck in his own zone, Logan Couture pounced on it and beat Pekka Rinne for the Sharks third goal. Up to that point, Nashville had only three shots on goal. The Sharks were that dominant. They never let up.
In the third period, the Sharks would add a pair of goals. The fourth goal came on a 4-on-1 rush while on the power play. The fifth goal came on a 2-on-1 rush and featured tic-tac-tic passing from Patrick Marleau to Logan Couture and back to Marleau.
After San Jose added their fifth and final goal, Rinne mutilated his goalie stick against the goal cage with the sorts of swings that Barry Bonds might envy (unfortunately, an image of Rinne that will linger for a goalie who deserves better). The scoreboard said 5-0. Looking a bit further down the scoreboard, it showed Nashville had registered just nine shots to that point in the game.
Different This Time?
For a fan base accustomed to finding new levels of disappointment, the Game 6 loss to Nashville seemed to have set the stage for another second round exit. Instead, it set the stage for the Sharks most dominant effort of the season against a quality opponent. In a game with a story line for failure primed to go, the Sharks had none of it. Déjà vu got the night off.
There are those who think Nashville might have been a relatively weak opponent. I’m not one of those. Nashville is a quality team that has been very good in big games. They had won three straight elimination games, all nail-biters. When the going was tough, Nashville was tougher. Until Game 7 against San Jose.
In franchise history, the Sharks have managed 18 playoff appearances and have won 15 series. This is the fourth time they have won two series in a season. They now have the chance to win a third series in a row for the first time (for a history of the Sharks postseason, Down With Brown did a recap that really can’t be improved on).
The Sharks have been in a similar spot before. Just five years ago, they played and beat the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh game of a second round series. They would lose the next round to Vancouver in a series filled with some of the worst puck luck imaginable. Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau played in those series against Detroit and Vancouver. Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun were part of the team at the time, but did not play in those series. These are the only Sharks players remaining from five seasons ago. Everyone else is new. As are the coaches.
The St. Louis team that awaits the Sharks is also a very good hockey team. Like the Sharks, they went to a Game 7. Like the Sharks, they dismantled their opponent to advance. Like the Sharks, they have a history of futility in their quest for a Stanley Cup. The shared history of futility is the natural story line for the Western Conference Final. It is not one that I’d like to harp on, even as it will be ever-present.
These Sharks and Blues teams deserve their own story line, without the burdens of franchise history. They have earned it.
The Sharks have distributed their stats around this postseason. Couture leads in points, Pavelski leads in goals, Brent Burns leads in assists and Vlasic leads in plus-minus. Vlasic had two even-strength assists in Game 7, but only managed to be plus-1, which is hard to do given the other team failed to score.
The Shark Tank was jumping for Game 7. To my ears, it was as loud as it has been for years. At one point, Sharks alum Jamie Baker led the cheering fans. The fans stood cheering for the final 100 seconds and it continued until well after the salute to the crowd. Following regular season wins, there is a player interview for the crowd to hear, typically with one of the three stars. With national broadcasts, the on-ice post-game interviews are not broadcast to the fans in attendance. It seems this should be changed, certainly for series-clinching games by the home team.
All five Sharks goals came on situations where they outnumbered the Predators defense. Two were power-play goals. At even strength, Marleau scored on a 2-on-1 break while Joel Ward’s and Couture’s goals were essentially breakaways.
I have written the Sharks are a healthy team, especially for this point in the postseason. For the first time in the postseason, a Sharks player missed a game due to injury. Matt Nieto missed the game while Tommy Wingels returned to the lineup.