The shortened 2013 regular season concludes for the Sharks tonight in Los Angeles. We know they're heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight spring but we still don't know who they'll face in the first round. Assuming the Blues beat the Rockford IceHogs this afternoon, the contest between the Sharks and Kings could be for all the marbles. Or at least the same quantity of marbles as the 2011-12 regular season finale: winner faces St. Louis, loser draws Vancouver. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Here's a brief look back at the four months of hockey that got us to this point.
January 6th: The NHL lockout officially ended as the league's cabal of owners decided playing hockey games can sometimes be as good a way of making money as slashing player salaries and laying off team employees. Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Brent Burns' groin injury could keep him out of action to start the truncated season (foreshadowing!)
January 20th: Despite continuing to play as if locked out for the entirety of the first period, the Sharks came alive in the second long enough to put out the Flames 4-1 in their season opener. Patrick Marleau scored two goals which pretty quickly became a common occurrence.
January 23rd: The day after completing their two-game "sweep" of Alberta courtesy a 6-3 win over the Oilers, the Sharks officially signed bought-out Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez to a one-year, $700k contract after a bizarre process of courtship that involved him skating and traveling with the team before officially becoming a Shark.
January 24th: A four-goal third period comeback gave the Sharks a 5-3 win over the Coyotes in the team's home opener, San Jose's third of what would be seven consecutive victories to start the season.
February 2nd: Despite notching two shootout goals earlier in the week, Michal Handzus came up empty in the skills competition against the Nashville Predators, ending the Sharks' 7-game winning streak. But surely this was just a bump in the road and the team would rebound in no time.
February 5th: In a much-hyped battle of Western Conference heavyweights, the second-place Sharks hosted the first-place Blackhawks in one of the most exciting games of the season, eventually losing 5-3 after a controversial match penalty was awarded to Andrew Desjardins and then rescinded post-game.
February 9th: Brent Burns made his first appearance of the season, paired with Brad Stuart on the Sharks' second pairing as the blueline looked perfectly sensible for the first time all year; Vlasic and Boyle were paired, as were Demers and Braun with Douglas Murray chilling in the press box. San Jose dominated the Coyotes but couldn't beat Mike Smith, losing 1-0 in a shootout. So obviously Murray was never scratched again.
February 19th: Tim Kennedy sniped one from the grassy knoll to end the Sharks' seven-game losing streak, which included an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Columbus and followed their season-opening seven-game winning streak.
February 25th: Ryane Clowe was suspended two games for making what was deemed a legal line change at the end of a 2-1 loss to Chicago to retaliate against Andrew Shaw in response to Shaw's boarding of Joe Pavelski. The first of Clowe's two games was served in Dallas, where Burns re-injured himself.
March 12th: Coming off a stretch of scoring just 24 goals in 19 games, the Sharks reintegrated Burns into the lineup, but as a forward. It was ridiculous, asinine and a blatant desperation move...until it not only worked but turned out to be a rousing success that saved the Sharks' season.
March 25th: After a 2-0 loss to Minnesota that put their chances of making the playoffs at an estimated 36.8%, the Sharks began to wheel and deal ahead of the league's April 3rd trade deadline. They traded defenseman Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a pair of draft picks then beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 while icing a markedly faster lineup.
April 1st: As the post-Murray wins kept piling up, the Sharks held Ryane Clowe out of a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks only to trade a different slow-moving veteran forward instead: Michal Handzus, back to Chicago.
April 2nd: But then they also traded Ryane Clowe.
April 3rd: With the Sharks continuing to win despite selling off assets, Doug Wilson added to the team at the trade deadline, picking up veteran defenseman and former Shark Scott Hannan alongside hated forward Raffi Torres. The organization also rewarded Matt Irwin for a nice rookie season with a contract extension.
April 15th: This happened:
April 27th: In their final game of the regular season, the Sharks triumphantly defeated the Los Angeles Kings. Or triumphantly lost to them. Ask me again after St. Louis plays.
|5th in Western Conference|
Projected Sharks Lineup
T.J. Galiardi - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Raffi Torres - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
Andrew Desjardins - Scott Gomez - Adam Burish
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Matt Tennyson
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Projected Kings Lineup
Kyle Clifford - Anze Kopitar - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan - Brad Richardson - Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi - Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin - Keaton Ellerby