Over the last twenty years, the Sharks have collected their fair share of banners to drape from the rafters of HP Pavilion. Presidents Trophy Winners, 2008-2009. Western Conference Regular Season Champions from that year and the next. A smattering of Pacific Division Championships from throughout the team's short history.
Despite all these accomplishments, many believe that a figurative noose hanging next to the teal and black banners is a more fitting way to describe the Sharks as a whole. Blessed with elite talent for years, the Sharks have never been able to break through and reach their goal of a Stanley Cup Championship, let alone a final round birth. Bounced from the Western Conference Finals twice, the team has left their fans wanting more from them on a yearly basis.
The group of players has changed from year to year, with only the core group remaining intact. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have each been criticized for some reason or another over the span of playoff disappointments, eventually receiving the label of "choker" that has come to define the Sharks as a whole. Disregard the fact that Joe Thornton might be having his best playoff year ever, or that Marleau had five of his team's seven goals in the Western Conference Finals last year. Ignore the fact that Dan Boyle has drank from Lord Stanley's cup before, or that he has six points in this series against Detroit. These players aren't winners, or at least that's what the media wants you to think.
The story is an easy one to write; an article laden with clichés and blanket statements can be recycled and churned out in minutes. Replace the date, occasionally the opponent, and you've got yourself a hot piece of not-so-fresh material which is sure to grab attention. Even though the Sharks aren't done yet, these pieces are easy to find already. In fact, it's hard to escape them.
I'm not discounting the fact that the Sharks have lost three in a row. In three straight chances to eliminate a rival and advance to the Western Conference Finals, they have failed. Two third period leads have been erased before their eyes. Those lost leads were accompanied by some of the confidence which was at an all time high just three games ago. Those once confident Sharks followers, left crestfallen, have little place to turn for solace when writers, pundits and fans across the league are all too quick to jump aboard another potential Sharks playoff collapse.
The Sharks haven't lost yet, though. Take that into consideration. Game seven is yet to be played, and the fate of this team is yet to be decided.
A Sharks win would not only send them into the next round, but also leave those who counted them out scratching their heads. It's not supposed to happen, but the Sharks weren't supposed to win three straight against Detroit to start the series. As is always the case, the game is played for a reason. Anything is possible headed into tomorrow night; once the puck drops, the last six games go out the window. The teams' success and failures over their respective histories mean nothing. The game isn't decided in the past, it's decided in the here and now.
Many will point to the fact that Detroit's experience may help them tomorrow, that much is true. But history means little when a game seven occurs. If it did, I might bring up the fact that the only other time the two teams have met for a game seven, the Sharks beat a superior Red Wings team who had just trounced them 7-1 in game six. I won't bring that up, though. Momentum in the playoffs changes from game to game, and even period to period, as Detroit's wins have been evidence of. If those memories are too painful, the Sharks comeback against Los Angeles is evidence of the same occurrence.
The Sharks know what it feels like to lose. To steal from my friend Jason Plank, as much as we care if they triumph, they care more. As much as it hurts us when they lose, it hurts them more. We will see that on the ice at HP Pavilion tomorrow night.
Todd McLellan has said that he thinks his team plays better when uncomfortable. Counted out by almost everyone, the Sharks can prove that to be true. With a win, the Sharks can amaze. They can overcome the label that has hung over this team like a cloud for what seems like an eternity.
Well, at least until next season.