In the midst of the postgame media scrum in the Sharks locker room in Staples Center on Thursday night, an older man with white hair entered, clapping vociferously.
“Hey guys … hey come on Burnzie, eh?” he said loudly in front of Brent Burns’ locker.
The man, who the majority of hockey fans wouldn’t recognize, was Hasso Plattner, the Sharks’ majority owner who rarely makes public statements and is almost never available to the media. Yet, here he was, walking straight into a room with hordes of media to (very publicly) mingle with his team.
That’s how big the roller-coaster 4-3 win over the Kings was on Thursday, which gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead in the best of seven first round series; it made a reticent owner seem like a boisterous one. And on a larger scale, it turned the many Sharks fans skeptical of their team’s playoff chances into instant believers.
Here we go Again
Though the team was well in line for a playoff spot months before the season ended, the overwhelming train of thought was that the Sharks would falter to the Kings or Ducks, whomever the Sharks drew in the first round. Getting the Kings right out of the gate, of course, brought flashbacks of the infamous 2014 first round series when the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead. It brought back the not-so-pleasant memories of Jonathan Quick stonewalling the Sharks time and time again in the 2013 Conference Semifinals.
So no one would have blamed Sharks’ supporters for their lack of faith, especially against a rejuvenated Kings team that has Stanley Cup experience. And when Jake Muzzin lit the lamp for the Kings just three minutes into the game on a fluke goal — he banked it in off Tomas Hertl — and the Sharks looked flustered like they just rolled out of bed, fans were likely thinking, “Here we go again.” Staples Center was rocking, taunting ex-Kings-turned-Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, making it feel like this would be a quick and painless series victory.
Subduing the Kings
But then something extraordinary happened: the Sharks settled down. They earned a power play minutes later, and the ever-so-clutch Joe Pavelski delivered a crucial goal on a one-timer to even the score. Instead of the Kings grabbing the early momentum and running with it, the Sharks halted their SoCal rivals dead in their tracks.
Things seemed like they were coming off the rails once again late in the second period. After a long power play shift in the offensive zone, Joe Thornton had the puck bounce off his stick and into a fortuitous position for Trevor Lewis, who beat the tired Sharks down the ice and scored a demoralizing shorthanded goal. The Kings seemed destined to turn this stroke of luck into a game-changer, but again, the Sharks calmed it down. Thirty seconds later, it was as if the shorty never happened — Tomas Hertl punched it in after a scramble in front of the Kings’ goal, and the teams entered the third period tied 3-3.
While Pavelski ultimately had the game-winner with a gorgeous wraparound goal 17 seconds into the third, it was those two moments, those answers by Pavelski and Hertl that won the game for the Sharks.
As has been detailed en masse throughout their playoff history, the Sharks of old would have relented after either of those momentum pushes by the Kings, relenting and suffering another disappointing postseason loss. But yet, this team, led by “Captain Clutch” Pavelski, a rocket blaster in Burns, a strong veteran core featuring Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and a stellar bottom six did the unthinkable: put together a solid playoff performance in a hostile environment and managed to steal home-ice advantage.
This series is far from over; the Sharks don’t need any more reminders of the collapse against the Kings two seasons ago. They outplayed the Kings in nearly every facet of the game on Thursday, and yet the Kings came within a desperation goal late in the third period from forcing overtime.
But for now, the Sharks’ pleasant overachievement has everyone buzzing — even Mr. Plattner.