It has become an annual event on the calendar: winter turns to spring and
the San Jose Sharks sink slowly to the bottom of the playoff ocean, never to be
seen when the Stanley Cup is awarded in June. San Jose has found many
ways to lose games and series they should have won in recent playoffs, but none
compare to Sunday night’s backbreaking 1-0 overtime loss at the hands of the
San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle scored the only goal of the game when he accidentally
backhanded the puck into his own net just 51 seconds into overtime. Rookie Ryan O’Reilly was given credit for the goal. If ever an overtime
loss felt like sudden death, this was it.
The Sharks did everything but score in this contest, dominating all facets
of play. They outshot the Avalanche 51-17 in the game including 21-3 in
the second period and 21-4 in the third period. In total, the Sharks took
an incredible 93 shots at the Colorado goal (22 shots were blocked and 20 went
wide of the net) in nearly 61 minutes of play. But they could not solve
Avs’ goalie Craig Anderson who was named the game’s first star and earned his
first career playoff shutout.
The players in the San Jose locker room were stunned.
pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a player, putting it in your own
net but,” a solemn Boyle admitted after the game. “I was trying to go hard
around. I don’t know if it hit a stick or what. t’s pretty much
the worst thing that can happen.”
“I was watching the puck and seeing how he hits the puck, it’s supposed
to go around, my eyes go around and all of a sudden it hits the shaft and goes
in,” said Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. “I don’t even know
where it went in to be honest with you. I know it went somewhere between
the pads and the post, so short side but what can you do?”
This is not the first time that players have hurt their teams by putting the
puck in their own net in the playoffs.
In Game 7 of the 1986 Division
Final series between bitter rivals Edmonton and Calgary, Oilers defenseman
Steve Smith accidentally shot the puck into his own net by banking in off
Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr. Smith was trying to clear the puck out from
behind his own net with the game tied 2-2. Smith’s gaffe proved to be the
game winner as the Flames won the game 3-2 and the series 4 games to 3, ending
Edmonton’s two year run of championships.
The Montreal Canadiens, led by
rookie goalie Patrick Roy, won the Cup that year. The Oilers, led by Hall
of Famers like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri,
captured the next two Stanley Cup titles, giving them four in five
seasons. It is more than possible that Smith’s mistake cost the Oilers a
chance at winning five straight Stanley Cups.
In 2008, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury knocked the puck into his own net
after making a save on Detroit‘s Henrik Zetterberg in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup
Finals. It turned out to be the game winning and Cup clinching goal as
Detroit won the game 3-2 and the series four games to two.
Both of these examples can provide hope for the Sharks. Smith went on
to play more than 800 NHL games and won three Stanley Cups with the
Oilers. Fleury rebounded the next season to lead the Penguins to the
Stanley Cup Finals where they faced and defeated the Red Wings in seven games. This time, Fleury made two big saves in the final seconds of the
deciding game to preserve the victory for Pittsburgh.
But the Sharks have yet to prove they have the resilience that Smith and
Fleury showed. In fact, San Jose has been considered a Stanley Cup
favorite each year since the lockout but they have yet to advance beyond the
second round of the playoffs.
The Sharks post lockout playoff history has
been one of underachievement and frustration:
2005-06 Regular Season: 99 points. Playoffs: Lost, Second round to the Edmonton
2006-07 Regular Season: 107 points. Playoffs: Lost, Second round to the Detroit
2007-08 Regular Season: 108 points. Playoffs: Lost, Second round to the Dallas
2008-09 Regular Season: 117 points. Playoffs: Lost, First round to the Anaheim
Even before this year’s playoffs started, experts were questioning the
Sharks ability to come through when it really counted.
Hockey analyst Mike
Milbury told a conference call of NHL reporters prior to the postseason that, “The character question is on the line yet again in San Jose. I think that Thornton and Marleau and, Heatley and Nabokov all understand that they need to
find a way to dial it up at a time when all the eyes are on them. And they’ve
been close in the past. They’ve got a pretty good team there. Obviously,
they’ve kind of run through the regular season. But the questions will be
answered now. And if they’re not answered in a positive fashion, I can’t in any
way fathom that this team wouldn’t be severely altered.”
Sharks’ Coach Todd McLellan laid it on the line after Sunday’s loss when he
said, “It is what it is. We didn’t beat their goalie; we found a way to
beat ours. We’ve been beat by some bad bounces in the series but I expect
our will and our character to come through to overcome it.”
Do the Sharks have enough will and character to overcome yet another playoff
stumble? They will find out quickly.
If the answer is yes, the Sharks come back and win this series before going on a long playoff run. If the answer is no, we will
see a very different roster in San Jose come October and the Sharks of the late
2000s will go down in NHL history as just another tease.