If there's one thing we love here at Fear The Fin, it's cheesy commercial tie-ins. So seeing as Discovery Channel is kicking off its annual airing of Shark Week, which I strongly suspect is one of those things more people talk about watching than actually watch (like The Wire), now seems as good a time as any to whittle away this interminable offseason with a countdown of the five most important goals in Sharks history. Importance is obviously pretty subjective but I tried to pick the goals that had the biggest impact on the franchise; those that, in some way, changed the league-wide perception of the Sharks, moved them closer to a championship or, in one case, had what I believe was a profound impact on the stability of their roster. I don't expect everyone to agree with my picks and most of the fun here is going to be debating them in the comments and recalling some of the best moments in San Jose's 21-year history. But before we get to the top five over the remainder of the week, let's start with some honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
The first two dreadful years of the franchise aside (which were tolerable if only because, hey, there was NHL hockey in the Bay Area again), the mid-to-late 90s were the darkest days in Sharks history. After advancing to the second round in both '94 and '95, the team suffered a two-year playoff drought that remains tied for a club record and then lost consecutive first-round series in six games to the Stars and Avalanche. 2000 didn't look like it was going to be much better with the team sneaking into the playoffs as an eighth seed and facing off against the President's Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues. St. Louis took the first game of the series but the Sharks improbably stormed back to win the next three before the Blues won two in a row to force a Game 7 in Missouri. With seconds remaining in the first period and San Jose already up 1-0, captain Owen Nolan, in one of the defining moments of his career, drilled a slapshot from center ice that somehow eluded Roman Turek and held up as the game-winner as the Sharks won their first playoff series in five years in a huge upset.
The only non-playoff goal on this list comes from one of the most memorable regular seasons in Sharks history, 2005-06. A ten-game losing streak in November had the team buried at 13th in the Western Conference with their playoff hopes already on the brink. Until, of course, they made that one trade for that one guy and the season turned around dramatically. Even after acquiring Joe Thornton, though, the amount of ground San Jose needed to make up in order to secure a playoff berth meant it wasn't going to be a cakewalk and the season more or less came down to a home-and-home series with the Canucks in mid-April. With both clubs fighting for a playoff spot, the Sharks needed at least two points out of the series in order to clinch. Things got off to a terrible start in game one as a parade to the penalty box gifted the Canucks two power play goals until Thornton took over. A two-line pass to Grant Stevenson (remember him?) resulted in a breakaway goal before Thornton set up Nils Ekman for a power play tally and Scott Hannan for an unlikely tying goal in the late third period. Then, in overtime, Thornton drew two of the four Canucks skaters to him before setting the table for a wide-open Christian Ehrhoff who sent the Sharks to the playoffs in a year in which it looked as if there was no hope as late as Thanksgiving.
April 15th, 2008 - Joe Thornton vs. Calgary Flames
The 2007-08 iteration of the Sharks was one of the best in franchise history that went from great to dominant following both their trade deadline acquisition of Brian Campbell and a turnaround in some of the bad luck they had suffered from earlier in the year. The team was undefeated in regulation over the entire month of March and stormed to their first division title in four years. They were easily the sexy Stanley Cup pick among the media heading into the playoffs, especially since they were slated to face a frankly mediocre Flames team. But nothing has ever come easy for the Sharks in the postseason and the team dropped both Game 1 in San Jose and Game 3 in Calgary, a contest in which they had a 3-0 first period lead. Going down 3-1 in the series would have been disastrous but Jonathan Cheechoo gave the team a chance by tying Game 4 late in the third with a ridiculous-angle shot on Miikka Kiprusoff (this was the season in which Kipper's career started to tumble downhill a bit), setting the table for a point shot from Douglas Murray with just over 9 seconds remaining in regulation deflected in by Joe Thornton. The series was tied, Randy Hahn made the goal call of his life and the horseshit narrative about Thornton being a playoff choker seemed to diminish a bit. For like two weeks at least.
After prevailing over Calgary in seven games, the Sharks drew Dallas in the second round, a team they had never beaten in the playoffs and who had just deposed defending Cup champion Anaheim. The series got off to a horrible start with the Stars opening up a 3 games to none lead. San Jose stayed alive with a 2-1 win at the American Airlines Center in Game 4 but found themselves down 2-0 at the start of Game 5's third period. Goals by Milan Michalek and Campbell forced overtime where American Hero Joe Pavelski forced a defensive-zone turnover by Antti Miettinen with a relentless forecheck, walked into the slot with the puck and fired it over Marty Turco to force a Game 6 that had some wondering whether the Sharks could be the first team in 33 years to win a series they trailed 3-0. That didn't happen. Fuck you, Brenden Morrow.
April 25th, 2011 - Joe Thornton vs. Los Angeles Kings
Most of the greatest moments from the first-ever playoff series between the Sharks and Kings came in Game 3 where San Jose returned from a 4-0 deficit to win 6-5 in overtime. But this one was special for a few reasons. First of all, it was a minor miracle the Sharks even made it to this point in the game still alive after a 5-minute boarding major was assessed to Jamie McGinn late in the third period. It was also the first time the Sharks had won a series in overtime since Ray Whitney's double-OT tally against Calgary in the '95 playoffs. Perhaps most significantly, this was more than likely the biggest goal of Joe Thornton's Hall of Fame career and his sliding celebration has already cemented itself as one of the most iconic images in team history.