On Wednesday evening, the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues will play Game 6 of their series in San Jose. The series is 3-2 and it will be the Sharks with the chance to close it out and move on to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blues will fight to stay alive in the playoffs and should they succeed, force a Game 7 in St. Louis to decide the series winner.
The Wednesday game at the Shark Tank will be the biggest in the venue’s history. The venue, currently the SAP Center, formerly HP Pavilion, formerly Compaq Center and formerly San José Arena, has seen plenty of hockey. It is now one of the older venues in the NHL, first seeing hockey during in the 1993-94 season.
Whatever happens in the Shark Tank on Wednesday night, there will be several firsts.
The Sharks have only played a Game 6 in the conference final once, and they trailed in that series. That was in 2004 against in Calgary against the Flames. Wednesday’s Game 6 equals the deepest in the playoffs the Sharks have gone, it will stand alone as the deepest in the playoffs the Sharks have hosted a playoff game. In the team’s three prior trips to this round of the playoffs, the deciding game has always come on the road. In addition to the handshakes in Calgary, they Sharks have ended on the wrong end of series in Chicago and Vancouver.
The future of the franchise for deep playoff runs is a bit murky, given how reliant the team is on older players. This season has been the charmed playoff run that other talented Sharks teams did not have. Unlike prior years, there has been no white-hot goalie, unstoppable force or insane puck luck to derail the team. The Sharks are the picture of health compared to most NHL teams at this time of year. This is the year things are lining up for San Jose, more than in any prior season. Fairly or not, this postseason has a ‘now or never’ feel to it.
The Sharks biggest business challenge is bringing the fan base back. The days of easy sellouts are long gone. While this game will certainly sell out with the chance for a series clinch, there was plenty of availability less than 60 hours before puck drop. The snapshot taken at 10am Monday for a game to be played at 6pm on Wednesday shows the challenge. The blue dots in the image are available seats, several sections showing roughly 40 unsold seats with less than ten of the 56 sections almost sold out. It appeared there were about 1,000 tickets remaining (the map is from Ticketmaster, the venue’s ticket seller). One figures other outlets such as StubHub and various ticket brokers were also dealing with unsold inventory at the time.
The large number of unsold tickets points out the reluctance of Sharks fans to risk enduring a potential series ending loss. Once the Sharks won Game 5 and the meaning of Game 6 became clear, tickets sales were very brisk. When I checked shortly after the end of the game, availability had diminished greatly.
The upcoming game is big on the hockey side and big on the business side. Should the Sharks move into the final round and play for the Cup, Game 6 on Wednesday will quickly be eclipsed as the most important in Shark Tank history. But for now, one thing we can be certain of; Game 6 is a very big deal.
Game 6 is the chance to show the home fans this team is worthy of their belief. For the 17,562 that will be in the house, they will see something they’ve never seen before. Guaranteed.
Game 5 featured shaky goaltending on both ends. Martin Jones will no doubt stay in the net for San Jose, but it is unclear if Jake Allen will stay in for St. Louis, or if the Blues will return to Brian Elliott. I understand why Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made the change to start Allen in Games 4 and 5, but Elliott strikes me as the better goalie.
Game 5 also featured the first game in the series were the trailing team came back to take the lead. It happened twice. The Sharks took the early lead, the Blues scored back-to-back goals to take the lead. The Sharks scored the final four goals to regain the lead and earn a 6-3 win. It was the second time in the postseason the Sharks went into the third period tied at 3-3, and went on to win 6-3. The series clinching game against the Kings was the other.
For a defensive defenseman, the Sharks Marc-Edouard Vlasic is quietly having a sizable impact on offense in the postseason. His nine assists tie him for second among defensemen and seven even strength points tie him for third. He is still playing defense, his plus-12 leads the Sharks and is third among all players in the playoffs.