In years past, being the favorite hasn’t worked at all for the San Jose Sharks. A team that’s been loaded with talent over the last five seasons has severely underachieved in the playoffs — almost to an embarrassing level.
So the 2013 Sharks will try a different approach.
San Jose has been under the radar all year. While all the attention in the West has been given to the Chicago Blackhawks (rightfully so) and the Anaheim Ducks, the Sharks have quietly put together a solid season of their own, with a record of 25-16-7 (57 points).
The Sharks will enter the playoffs as the sixth seed, meaning that they’ll face the No. 3 seeded Vancouver Canucks — another historical underachiever. On paper, this is a series that the Sharks should win.
With one of the best home records in the league and the fewest regulation losses at home, the Sharks may only need to steal one game in Vancouver to advance — and this task will sit squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Antti Niemi.
Niemi has been solid once again between the pipes (24 wins, four shutouts, a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage), but he needs to bring this success with him into the postseason. He’ll need help from the strong group of veteran forwards on the team — led by former league MVP Joe Thornton.
Once again the team’s leading scorer with 40 points in 48 games, Thornton will be counted upon to distribute the puck under heavy pressure. He was among the NHL leaders this year with 33 assists, a familiar trend for the majority of the 33-year-old’s 15 seasons in the league. Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski will help carry an offense that scored 124 goals in 2013.
If the Sharks are playing well in all three phases of the game, there’s no team that they can’t beat — including the Blackhawks. But first things first … they need to by the Canucks. If they’re able to win one of the first two games in Vancouver, consider the series over, and consider the San Jose Sharks a serious dark horse threat in the West.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)