As night falls in San Jose, Sharks fans are left with quite a bittersweet feeling. This is the furthest their team has gone into the playoffs in franchise history, but they were stopped just shy of a Stanley Cup.
In what was a wild roller coaster of a season, the Sharks had flashes of brilliance, while also playing some games like their counterparts from their inaugural season, 25 years ago in 1991.
2013–14 and 2014–15 were painful for Sharks fans. One year, they allowed one of the biggest playoff comebacks in NHL history, and the year after, a frustrating year ending with the first non-playoff appearance in over a decade. Head coach Todd McLellan was later fired and Doug Wilson brought in former New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer. This was not considered a good move by the fanbase, and many were prepared for another disappointing year.
Expectations ran low entering the 2015–16 season; Sports Illustrated, who ranked the Sharks 21st in their preseason power rankings, criticized the pickups of Joel Ward and Martin Jones, and even went as far as to say, “The playoffs have never felt more out of reach.”
If there was something the Sharks seemed to specialize in, it would be early season domination, and 2015 was no exception. With Jones between the pipes, the Sharks won their first five games, with 14 total goals scored against just 3 allowed.
Eventually, the magic seemed to stop when the team went 1–5 in the remainder of October, but November’s road trip swing led to some interesting developments. Although the Sharks went 2–4 at home in November, they won all seven road games; by the end of the regular season, they had set the franchise record for the most away wins in a season with 28.
It’s gotta be something about those white jerseys. In a year promoted as “#25YearsofTeal”, the Sharks probably could have rebranded it as “#25YearsofWhite”.
Hey Now, You’re An All-Star
Going on a slight tangent now, it’s time to focus on one special Sunday in January. Nashville was the site of the annual All-Star Game, and the Sharks had Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns representing, though they were joined by an interesting face: former Shark, enforcer, Internet sweetheart and Pacific Division captain John Scott.
The weekend was probably one of the most entertaining All-Star breaks in recent memory, with an adorable breakaway challenge by Burns and Pavelski’s kids, as well as Chewbacca running the show. The day of the All-Star Game also proved to be a memorable one, with the Burns–Pavelski–Scott line stealing the show and winning the tournament. By the end of the day, Scott was named MVP and was lifted on the shoulders of his team; one cannot write a better script than that.
This is when things became serious. Round one featured a rematch against the LA Kings, and the Sharks were seeking revenge. Guided by former King Martin Jones, the rivals dueled in a dramatic series, with the first four games being decided by just one goal. Despite throwing away a three-goal advantage, the Sharks were able to survive and claim Game 5 and win the series.
Contrary to the Sharks’ away success in the regular season, the next round against the Nashville Predators proved to be one decided by home ice advantage. Every game was won by a home team, including a triple-overtime game in Nashville, but the Sharks had the upper hand, dominating the Preds in Game 7 at the SAP Center.
One step closer to reaching the Finals, the Sharks faced the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final in a battle of NHL 17 cover finalists (Pavelski vs. Vladimir Tarasenko). Despite an early win by the Blues, the Sharks hung on in a series of blowouts (every game besides Game 1 had a margin of at least 3 goals) to make the Stanley Cup Final.
Many predicted the Sharks wouldn’t survive against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins, and their concerns proved to be true. Outmatched in the first two games, things seemed bleak for the Sharks. However, they were able to keep those games close, losing by just one goal in both. Back home for Game 3, the Sharks ended any thought of a sweep with an overtime victory via Joonas Donskoi’s goal. A 3–1 loss in Game 4 seemed to mark the end of the line, but Martin Jones proved it is not over until a team wins 4 games, denying the Penguins a victory in Game 5. Unfortunately, Game 6 was the conclusion of the Sharks’ Cup hopes, losing 3–1.
It was a tough series, but the Sharks were able to hang on as long as possible. Looking back at expectations from last summer, the Sharks definitely proved to be a mightier team than we had all expected. It’s been a fun season of hockey, and hopefully, next season will be another great year!