So it's official—with 109 points in the standings—2008-2009 is the best regular season the Sharks have ever played. Unfortunately, subsequent to clinching home-ice advantage in the playoffs, the rest of the season becomes almost a needless mundane task. After the seemingly endless regular season of 82 games, we are almost to what it all comes down to: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, yes, a lot of us are for the great battle with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins (sorta) for the President's Trophy, but personally if I were a Shark (oh, if only life was so kind) that would only be a second objective compared to lifting the holy grail of hockey—Lord Stanley's Cup.
So let's face the music, as many hockey fans have been thrilled to obsessively repeat through this season, the Sharks clearly do not have the best record in the playoffs. However, in condolence Mike Babcock of the vile Red Wings offered one description of what it is like to play in the NHL Playoffs and one possible explanation for the Sharks' woes. One of the biggest factors in playoff success is location, location, location. Babcock said, the Wings "hope for distance." By that he means the shortest distance traveled in the playoffs always is the best route. So, in the case of the Sharks, playing Anaheim or Vancouver in the first round would be more beneficial than playing Nashville or Edmonton. "Distance was the greatest thing (last season), because we got to play Nashville so barely traveled in the first round," Babcock said. "The year before, we played Calgary, San José, and Anaheim, and with all those time zones and distances, that's a huge wear and tear on you."
Point taken, but that should be enough crap about the Red Wings, what about the Sharks? Let's go analyze and size-up the Sharks' potential 1st round opponents!
St. Louis Blues (currently 9th—81 pts.)
Playoff History: Taking advantage of an odd NHL rule that required an expansion team to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals every year, from 1967-1970 the Blues were that team. However, they were swept all 3 times by Montréal twice and Boston the final time.
vs. Sharks: 1 Win; 2 Eliminations
1. In 1999-2000, the St. Louis Blues achieved the Presidents' Trophy for the league's best record and were finally poised to win it all. In spite of this accomplishment, the San José Sharks posted a stunning 7-game upset and eliminated the midwestern Stanley Cup favorites. If you don't recall, that was during the Owen Nolan era and this fantastic goal took place.
2. The 2000-2001 St. Louis Blues got their revenge for the early departure in the prior postseason and eliminated the 5th-seeded Sharks in 6 games, but that was all for naught when they got in the way of the Abominable Avalanche motivated by the cup-starved Ray Bourque and the god-like goaltending of the legendary Patrick Roy.
3. Then finally, in 2003-2004, their playoff hopes were once again dashed by the San José Sharks for the final time in 5 games. And as of today, it was the last time the St. Louis Blues ever qualified for the playoffs, at all.
Chances: Sorry to our Blues Brothers, but in spite of the current winning streak they do not have the best chances ever. St. Louis' playoff hopes largely depend on their road games, (7 games left—1 home; 6 Away). Their current record on the road, according the NHL.com standings page, 14-17-4, and at this point in the race they cannot afford any losses.
Final Games: @ Columbus (3/29), @ Chicago (4/1), @ Detroit (4/2), @ Stars (4/4), @ Coyotes (4/7), Columbus (4/10), and finally @ Colorado for, hopefully, the easy finish.
Prediction: If they do make the playoffs, it will be a very tight fit into 7th or 8th place. Then again what is not tight about this years' playoff race? With that said, no matter what they are either playing our Sharks or the Red WIngs. Regardless, of which they play the Blues will be extremely tired from their long arduous playoff push, but I have watched miracles in the playoffs before (1993 Sharks vs. the Red WIngs) so I won't assume an early elimination for the Blues' but it is highly likely if they make it at all.
Nashville Predators (currently 7th—82 pts.)
Playoff History: Not much to write about... 4 qualifications, 4 first round exits. The only playoff opponents they have ever had are the San José Sharks (twice) and the Detroit Red Wings (also twice).
vs. Sharks: 2 eliminations (both within 5 games) Anyone remember Patrick Rissmiller's redemption?
Chances: Similar to the Blues, the Predators' playoff hopes depend almost entirely (although, not quite as drastic) on their work away from home. They have 7 games left, 2 at home, while 5 on the road. Currently, their away record stands at an almost identical 14-8-4. Right now, their last 10 record is 4-2-4, and if they are serious about making the playoffs: overtime losses will not get them there.
Final Games: @ Detroit (3/29), @ Columbus (3/31), @ Chicago (4/3), Columbus (4/4), Chicago (4/7), @ Detroit again (4/9), and @ Minnesota (4/10)
Prediction: Sadly enough, from a Nashville perspective, their only chance at the playoff advance is going through the Sharks or the Red Wings. Is this their year? Can they finally make it to the 2nd round? I hate Nashville hockey and as much as I hate to say it, their 3 goals in 2:15 against the Sharks was amazing (*shudder*). However, if they do face the Sharks in the first round, the Sharks will be looking for revenge for that mess-up and I've found Nabokov to be quite prideful of his work. It will not be pretty.
Edmonton Oilers (currently 8th—81 pts)
Playoff History: 5 time Stanley Cup Champions! (1983-85; 1986-88; 1989-90). What more do you need to say? In the latest news, they came close to winning it a 6th time by prying it from the Carolina Hurricanes (former Hartford Whalers) in 2006, but fell 3-1 in Game 7.
vs. Sharks: 1 win.
It was a situation the Sharks unfortunately are all too familiar with as they were eliminated in 6 games in the Conference semifinals of the 2005-2006 playoffs. Although there is one factor that semi-absolved the Sharks' of that horrific "choke"; the 5-on-1.5 situation that took place and as Dan Rusanowsky calls it the loudest moment in the history of the Shark Tank.
Chances: Almost likely. They have 7 games left and for 6 of those games they will be comfortable on home-ice in Rexall Place. Sure, right now they're in 9th place, but nothing beats being pumped up by your own fans. However, somehow Edmonton has managed to screw up that up a bit. Their current home record is 16-13-6 and oddly enough have a better road record. I am curious, if they will manage to turn that around on the back of Dwayne Roloson.
Final Games: Wild (3/29), Ducks (3/31), SHARKS (4/2), Canucks (4/4), Kings (4/7), Flames (4/10), and finish close to home @ Calgary (4/11)
Prediction: Personally, I think the Oilers will make it to 7th place. However, for their best interests they will probably want to face the Sharks instead of the Red Wings. Red Wings swept them in the season series of 4 games all within regulation, while the Sharks have had some bad nights getting passed that bastard Roloson.
Anaheim Ducks (10th—80 pts.)
Playoff History: Unless anyone forgot in 2006-2007 the formerly mighty Ducks of Anaheim became the first California-based hockey team to win Lord Stanely's Cup. No one in Anaheim seemed to care.... I will give them the benefit of the doubt, it may have been thanks to Paris Hilton's synchronized prison escape.
vs. Sharks: Surprisingly, it never happened. However, I kinda really hope it happens this year. Light travel for the Sharks = damn good prospects for the future. Predicting a win of course, (KNOCK ON WOOD DAMMIT!).
Chances: Slight balance of a yes and a no. With a remarkably horrible start to their season, the Ducks have 3 Home games left, while 4 on the road. Yet at the same time, their playoff future is simultaneously left to the physical whim of the Sharks ("Should we let them pass?") in 2 last back-to-back home-and-away games next weekend.
Final Games: Avalanche (3/29), @ Oilers (3/31), @ Canucks (4/2), @ Sharks (4/4), Sharks again (4/5), after a nice break Stars (4/10), and finally @ Phoenix (4/11)
Prediction: Obviously, they think their chances are purely excellent, as they have already put playoff tickets up for sale. If so, I hope they play the Sharks. Sure it will be an extremely physical series, but as Babcock suggested, the Sharks get the bonus of absolutely no jet lag.
Overall Prediction for the Western Conference 1st Round:
Sharks vs. Ducks
Detroit vs. Edmonton
Vancouver vs. Columbus
Chicago vs. Calgary
What do you think?