The earth rotates, the sun rises and the San Jose Sharks choke in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It may sound a bit harsh, but the proof is there for everyone to see. For the past few years, a very talented Sharks team has entered the playoffs with a good deal of fanfare from NHL pundits. “This is the year,” they say, “this is when the Sharks finally avoid their typical postseason fumbling.” And yet, here we are, once again viewing an empty San Jose trophy case.
The Sharks have slipped and stumbled in many various ways come playoff time, but this? This latest episode should give their fans nightmares for decades to come.
Just three games into their opening round series with the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose looked downright frightening. They had beaten the Kings up and down the ice en route to a dominant 3-0 series lead. The Sharks didn’t just defeat L.A., they absolutely dominated them. San Jose made Olympic goalie Jonathan Quick look like Swiss cheese. In the first three games, the Sharks outscored the Kings 17-8. Los Angeles was hanging by a thread, while San Jose appeared to be the team to beat out west.
What in the name of the hockey gods happened after that? The offensive powerhouse the Sharks were bringing to the ice collapsed like there was no tomorrow. After scoring almost 20 goals in the first three games, San Jose scored five goals in the next four. A team that was the definition of dominance in the first week of the postseason, that was one win away from advancing, averaged just over a goal per game in their four chances to put the Kings away.
Did they just assume Los Angeles was so emotionally destroyed after losing three straight that they’d just roll over? Was the entire team under the belief that Quick was every bit of the sieve he looked like in the first three contests? We can’t know for sure what the Sharks were thinking, but their play on the ice to finish out the series certainly didn’t have the look of a Cup favorite. All they had to do was beat the Kings one time in four chances. The Sharks then let L.A. score 18 goals, more than two times as many as they had allowed in the three games before.
San Jose scored first in last night’s Game 7, but the Kings scored the next five. You could sense the concern in the crowd from the moment the puck dropped. Matt Irwin’s goal eased the tension a bit, but as soon as Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar put Los Angeles up 2-1 later that period, you could feel the air sucked out of the building. There would be no stopping this breakdown.
Typically, when a team loses a series in front of their home crowd, the fans salute them with cheers, an applause that says “you tried your hardest, we’re still behind you no matter what.” But last night, the boos were heard from all angles of the arena. Can you blame the San Jose faithful? What positives can they take away from this series? Every time a team in the playoffs goes up 3-0, the Sharks will be one of the reference points, one of the reminders that, despite how lopsided things look, it can still be choked away.
Where does San Jose go from here? Surely you can’t fumble away a series in historic fashion and walk away unscathed. What about Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, two Sharks who’ve seen almost every San Jose postseason failure there is? Marleau had a decent series, but Thornton? Two goals, an assist and a plus/minus rating of -6. Do the Sharks finally cut ties with their captain in attempts to make a culture change? If so, it’ll have to involve him waiving his no-trade clause.
We won’t know until the offseason, but the club will have plenty of time to think about it. Because try as they might, the Sharks just can’t remove their label as chokers. After last night, said label is bigger than ever.