Had someone tapped you on the shoulder back around New Year’s and said:
“Hey, the NHL is going to have a season, and the Sharks are going to face the Canucks in the first round of playoffs.”
Would you have believed them?
The abbreviated 99-day NHL regular season has come and gone, and the San Jose Sharks are headed for May hockey.
The Sharks won 25 of their 48 games during the truncated season. Now they’ll have to win 16 games in the next two months to become Stanley Cup Champions.
Following a season that consisted of two highly entertaining seven game winning streaks — and one very stressful seven game losing streak — Team Teal is headed across the border to face the Vancouver Canucks to begin the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
It’s a good rematch story between the two teams, who met up in the Western Conference Finals back in 2011. These teams have not seen each other this season since the NHL trade deadline on April 3.
The most notable and most talked-about trade from the Sharks side — was the pickup of Raffi Torres, who was coincidentally playing for Vancouver the last time they met San Jose in the playoffs.
During that series, Torres dealt a Game 4 blow to captain Joe Thornton that separated his shoulder.
Now that the Sharks have gone 7-5-1 since Torres joined the team and contributed to wins, we’re thinking Thornton probably hasn’t given that hit a second thought.
The Sharks fared well against the Canucks during this shortened season, going 3-0-0 with two wins at home and one in Vancouver.
In their one match up at Rogers Arena — where Round 1 starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. — San Jose won 3-2 in a shootout. Scott Gomez and Adam Burish got their first goals of the season that night, while Joe Pavelski was the shootout hero to give the Sharks the win.
But the Sharks recent road woes are a cause for concern. Following a home win Tuesday against the rival Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks lost their final two games on the road.
Their 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes could be attributed to playing back-to-back games and spending the night in between sleeping on an airplane.
Their performance in the season closer against the Kings down in Los Angeles was also less than stellar. Perhaps the lack of fighting for home ice advantage in the playoffs deflated the Sharks, who lost 3-2 at Staples Center on Saturday night.
Coach Todd McLellan told the media post-game that he:
“… felt the intensity of the game wasn’t quite where it would have been if one of these teams could have clinched home ice.”
Whether that was a factor or not, San Jose will have to shake off complacency to keep Vancouver from putting too many pucks in the back of their net.
Goaltender Antti Niemi might be a Vezina Trophy contender and have a Stanley Cup championship on his resume. But he can’t stop the puck without a little help in front of the crease.
Not to mention that the Sharks need to score more than two goals a game if they expect to win.
Critics seem keen on the Canucks winning. That could be because that the Sharks haven’t fared well in their recent playoff appearances like a first round exit against the St. Louis Blues last season.
However, if they can play like they did during the month of April — particularly during that well-earned seven-game winning streak — they could give Vancouver a run for their playoff lives.
The San Jose Sharks visit the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of their Western Conference Playoff series Wednesday. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m and is televised on CSN California.