2011? No, 2010.
The memorable Saturday night game against the Kings was coming to a close, with scoreboard showing 4-0 lead by the Kings. As I watched the masses rush to the parking lot of the HP Paviliion with 10 more minutes to go in the game, I turned to ZeroIndulgence and said, "Stanley Cup champions don't ever lose in such pathetic manner." He replied, "especially to the teams like the Kings."
San Jose Sharks did play one of the worst playoff games in recent memory - this much is true. We know it, the players know it. But it must have been the goal scored by Kyle Clifford (normally a 4th line player for the Kings), or the dumb penalties the Sharks were taking, or the quiet Sharks Tank that totally erases our memories of the past Stanley Cup playoffs.
Even Stanley Cup winning teams take nights off on their way to glory. In fact, every champion team did it at least once every spring, and in many cases twice.
If you still have no hope for the Sharks' playoffs chances after watching that game on Saturday, here are the worst performances by the last 10 Stanley Cup champions.
2010: Vancouver Canucks 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1. 2nd round, game 1. I'm sure this is not how the Blackhawks wanted to open the series in front of their own fans. Half way through the game, Canucks were already leading 5-0. The Blackhawks did a similar thing in the 1st round, when they lost 1-4 to the Nashville Predators. No big deal - Blackhawks turned it around and eliminated the Canucks in Game 6.
2009: Pittsburgh Penguins 0, Detroit Red Wings, 5. Stanley Cup Final, Game 5. On the heels of comments from the Penguins camp that the Red Wings were too old, the veteran team decided that actions are better than words, and delivered what at the time looked like a knock out, taking a confident 3-2 lead in the series. Everyone thought the series was over - the Penguins were outplayed in every facet of the game. But Penguins shocked the hockey world and overcame the adversity by winning the next two games to claim their next Stanley Cup championship.
2008: Detroit Red Wings 3, Nashville Predators 5. Round 1, Game 3. While this was one of the most focused playoffs performances of the decade - this loss being the worst by the eventual champion, Detroit still had a shaky start. The controversy was with the goaltenders. Dominik Hasek would eventually lose the starting job to Chris Osgood, and the Red Wings would dominate the rest of the games.
2007: Detroit Red Wings 5, Anaheim Ducks 0. Round 3, Game 3. With series tied 1-1 going into Anaheim, the Ducks found themselves in penalty trouble in the 2nd period, which lead to 0-4 score they were unable to recover from. The momentum seemed to have swung in the Red Wings favor. But Anaheim would not lose again in that series and would eliminate Detroit in Game 6.
2006: Carolina Hurricanes 0, Edmonton Oilers 4. Stanley Cup final, Game 6. Having a chance to win the Cup in Game 5 and Game 6, Hurricanes were not ready to do it just yet. Game 6 was especially bad, and with that score, the Oilers' win felt like a champions win. Edmonton put twice as many shots and hits in that game than did the Hurricanes. Yet it was Carolina who would prevail in Game 7 and win their first Stanley Cup.
2004: Tampa Bay Lightning 0, New York Islanders 3. 1st round, Game 2. This was a one wacky series. First, it featured the Islanders. Today it feels like the Islanders never made playoffs before - they were bad for so long. Second, all but one game of that series ended with a score of 3-0. Tampa was not bothered by the surprising loss at home, and went on to beat the Islanders in five games. Dan Boyle can tell a story or two to the current Sharks about what they did to bounce back.
2003: New Jersey Devils 1, Boston Bruins 5. Round 1, game 4. Joe Thornton should remember this one - he scored a goal in it. It's hard to imagine those Devils had a game where they allowed five goals - but the stats can't lie.
2002: Detroit Red Wings 1, St. Louis Blues 6. Round 3, game 3. Detroit won the previous two games, but St. Louis was ready to send a message themselves. Dominik Hasek allowed 5 goals on 15 shots before being pulled. Nicklas Lidstrom, who would win a Conn Smythe trophy a month later, was -3 in that game. Did it bother the Red Wings? Not in the least bit. They would eliminate the Blues in five games.
2001: New Jersey Devils 4, Colorado Avalanche 1. Stanley Cup final, game 5. Patrick Roy would go on to win his third Conn Smythe trophy. But he was pretty useless in that game: 4 goals allowed on 26 shots. Even the MVPs take the nights offs.
2000: Philadelphia Flyers 4, New Jersey Devils 2. Only the second team among the last 10 Stanley Cup champions that did not have a loss by more than two goals (Detroit of 2008 being the other one). Even with their defense, the Devils still had times when it didn't perform to its expectations.
All Stanley Cup champions had playoffs games they were not proud of. Some took it as a wake up call (Chicago in 2010, Anaheim in 2007, Tampa in 2004, New Jersey in 2003 etc). Others were pinned against the wall and had no choice but to give it their all (Pittsburgh in 2009, Carolina in 2006, etc). But a common theme in all these stories is that they came together, quickly forgot those games and moved on to win the Cup.
Other hockey tournaments are abound with examples too. Before Canada buried Russia 7-1 in Vancouver a year ago, there was a shootout win over Switzerland, followed by heartless loss to Team USA, resulting in 6th seed, and a state of panic all over Canada.
It is up to Todd McLellan to find a new game plan, better lines, and whatever words the players need to hear to execute. It is up to the players to forget Game 2 and play the way they've been playing in the second half of the season.
San Jose Sharks needed a 6-game losing streak and a 12th spot in the Western Conference to finally wake up in the regular season. But the playoffs is a totally different game. Could it be that they needed that 0-4 loss to wake up in playoffs?
Can they come together and outwork and outscore the Kings? Of course. Will they? I have no reason to believe otherwise. The series is just starting.