As the Sharks get ready to embark on what we all hope will be an extended playoff run, I thought it would be a good time to look back. The Sharks have certainly provided us with heartbreak and disappointment over the years. But we all take for granted their relative success. They've now made the playoffs 9 years in a row. And furthermore, in their 16 playoff appearances, they've given us some amazing memories. Here is my list. I'd love to know if you agree or disagree. Put them in the comments! I plan on introducing the Top 10 Heartbreaking Moments in the next couple of days as as well.
10. The Penalty Kill vs. Edmonton (2006)
This one would be higher if we had actually won this series, but I digress. It was Game 2 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against the Edmonton Oilers. The Sharks were ahead 1-0, and the Oilers were on a 5-on-3 Powerplay for 1:42. During the penalty kill, two Sharks lost their sticks, so the Oilers effectively had a 5-on-1 advantage. Mark Smith and Scott Hannan had lost sticks, leaving the immobile Kyle McLaren with the only Sharks stick on the ice. Somehow, through a series of blocked shots and misses by the Oilers, the Sharks were able to kill the penalty. When Scott Hannan clears the zone with his hand as the 1st penalty is about to expire, the roar at HP Pavilion was something else.
9. Getting over the Hump vs. Colorado (2004)
There was no real moment in this game that stood out. Rather it was getting over years and years of anguish to finally make it into the 3rd round of the NHL playoffs. The Sharks had a 3-2 series lead against the Maple Leafs in 1994, and Johan Garpenlov was a crossbar away from sending the Sharks to the conference finals in their 3rd season, but it was not to be. The Sharks also had a 3-2 series lead to these same Avalanche in 2002. The Sharks were ahead by a goal in Game 6, but gave up the equalizer in the 3rd and the game-winner in OT after an earthquake shook the Shark Tank. In 2004, the Sharks raced to a 3-0 lead against the Avs before painfully losing the next two in overtime. I was starting to think that God did not want the Sharks to reach the 3rd round. The Sharks were able to pull it out on goals by rookie Marcel Goc, Vinnie Damphousse and Jonathan Cheechoo.
8. Thornton's Game 6 OT goal against LA (2011)
The imagery was as good as the moment itself. Maligned Joe Thornton, criticized unfairly for his playoff performance over the past few years, slid across the ice with glee as his OT winner sent the Sharks into the 2nd round. This was a grueling series against the Kings. The Sharks had gotten beaten up badly at home in Game 5 after taking a 3-1 series lead, and a loss here would have given the Kings all the momentum.
7. Marleau's Game 4 OT goal against Detroit (2010)
Another maligned playoff performer, Patrick Marleau, scored this pivotal and exciting goal in Game 3 of the 2010 WCSF against the Wings. The Sharks had appeared to give the Red Wings a golden opportunity with a poor line change, but somehow the change worked to the Sharks advantage as Marleau and Thornton came in 2-on-1 against Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, and Marleau slid the puck into the net. This one is on the list mainly because it was such an exciting play that I almost passed out watching it.
6. Pavelski's Game 4 OT goal against Colorado (2010)
Let's set the scene here. The Sharks had the number 1 seed and President's Trophy in 2009, and lost the 8-seeded Ducks in the 1st round. The Sharks again secure the 1-seed, but in the first game of the 2010 playoffs against the Avs, they give up a goal in the final minute and lose. After a nice last-minute comeback in Game 2, the Sharks head to Denver with the series tied at 1. I won't post this video because it's too painful, but Dan Boyle puts the puck into his own net in OT, and the Sharks lose the game 1-0. So to say I was nervous going into Game 4 was an understatement. The game was the third straight in the series to go to overtime, and Joe Pavelski's drag-and-shoot play sent me into a state of pure euphoria. The Sharks came back to win the series and advanced all the way to the conference finals.
5. Game 7 vs. Detroit (2011)
I don't think I've ever been more freaked out about a game than I was about this one. The Sharks had a 3-0 series lead against the Red Wings in the WCSF for the 2nd year in a row. This time, they let the Red Wings come all the way back to tie the series at 3. In both Games 5 and 6, the Sharks had leads in the 3rd Period and had blown them. With the HP Pavilion crowd providing support, the Sharks won the game 3-2. I almost lost it when the Sharks were up 3-1, and Pavel Datsyuk sniped one on his backhand to bring the Wings within 1, but the Sharks somehow held on and advanced to the Conference Finals.
4. Comeback against the Kings (2011)
I had already thought about how screwed we were. The series was tied 1-1, and the Kings had raced out to a 4-0 lead in Game 3. It was over. The only thoughts we had were whether the Sharks could recover for Game 4. Somehow, the Sharks mounted an epic comeback, capped by an OT winner from Devin Setoguchi. Major kudos to Antero Nitiimakyi for relieving Niemi in net that night. (Bonus to this video: watching Michal Handzus slam his stick against the net when Setoguchi nets the game winner).
3. Nolan's Shot from Center vs. St. Louis (2000)
This was another series the Sharks almost blew. They had miraculously gone up 3-1 as an 8-seed against the 1-seeded St. Louis Blues. In Game 5, they lost in OT, and they got embarrassed at home in Game 6. It was back to St. Louis for Game 7. With a 1-0 lead, Owen Nolan decided to take matters into his own hands. He fired a laser from just past center that caught Blues Goalie Roman Turek off-guard. The Sharks won the game and secured the shocking upset.
2. Baker's Goal beats Detroit (1994)
It's hard to state just how unlikely this was. The previous season the Sharks had gone 11-71-2, and they had started this campaign 0-8-1. Somehow, they turned it around to make the playoffs, but surely they had no chance against the top-seeded Red Wings, right? The Sharks, in one of the greatest upsets in NHL history, defeated the Red Wings in 7 games, capped off by 3rd period game-winner from just inside the blue line by Jamie Baker. I was 8 at the time, and I had never been happier.
1. Ray Whitney's OT winner vs. Calgary (1995)
The Sharks were pretty much manhandled the entire game. A goalie who had no good NHL moments before or after this game, Wade Flaherty, somehow had the night of his life. And Ray Whitney (still in the league, impressively) finished it off way past my bedtime. This is what sports is all about.