It is a brisk, grey, spring morning in Toronto and we are desperately close but feel so far away from Easter weekend. It feels like the work week will never end.
Normally, today would feel like any other April day, but it is most definitely not. Wednesday, April 12, 2017 is decidedly different for one massive reason and one reason only: the NHL Playoffs start today.
Now I know this is nothing new for most of you, as you’re grizzled playoff veterans. It is also nothing new for most fans, as we have watched Sharks playoff hockey almost every year since the turn of the millennium. However, no matter how many times San Jose makes it, every year it feels like five Christmas’ and this year is no different.
Now Sharks, even though we fans have been through this song and dance many times, it still gives us a terrifying high when you win and an insurmountable heartache when you lose. Every game bears the weight of 10, and don’t even start on what a game seven does to us. I can only imagine what the pressure must feel like inside the locker room moments before stepping onto a fresh sheet of ice, ready to do battle.
Through the years we have watched some unbelievable hockey, like when you swept Vancouver at the last moment in 2013; when you stunned Detroit in 1994 in seven games; when Evgeni Nabokov made a game-saving goal line glove save on Brad Richards in 2008; when Owen Nolan sent a Howitzer from 90 feet away past Roman Turek; when you pulled the reverse “Miracle on Manchester” and came back from a 4-0 deficit in period one and #BeatLA 6-5 in OT.
That’s not even to mention when you finally got to pull your sweaters over your pads and take the ice for a Stanley Cup Final in 2016. These are indelible moments in Sharks history, and moments no Sharks fan will ever forget.
No matter how many times San Jose gives us a breathtaking win you seem to give us two gut-wrenching defeats. You have seemed to create new and inventive ways to lose and leave us asking why we go through the pain of cheering for the San Jose Sharks. Whether it be bowing out in round one to the eighth-seeded Ducks as the President’s Trophy winner in 2009, losing in the fourth OT to Dallas in 2008, getting promptly swept out of the Conference Finals by Chicago in 2010, or when the disastrous 2014 exit happened it always seemed to hurt no matter how steeled our souls had become.
Tonight, you will take the ice against the Edmonton Oilers, a once legendary franchise who, let’s be honest, has been a joke for a decade. Their non-joker status has been shed due to one Connor McDavid and his ability to make the game of hockey seem laughably easy. A lot, if not most, people have written San Jose off as a team past their expiry date and a stepping stone on the McDavid path to the promised land.
I have not written you off. This may seem inconceivably stupid and a homer pick, but I don’t care. Part of watching sports and developing a lifelong relationship with a team is to get unabashedly excited over the prospect that your guys will be the best. I can’t bring myself to pick against San Jose and the last 27 years we have shared, just to say “I Told You So.” I can’t reconcile cheering against my favourite team, even if they are flawed and broken. I would rather pick you and be wrong then pick you to lose and be sad anyway.
If we are being honest, you are broken and flawed. I know the PP sucks, you know the PP sucks, we all saw the drunken stumble you fell into in March and we all know some of the horses are injured. You and I both realize the uphill battle that any Cup winner has to go through, but you have made it seem like a harder hill to climb in 2017, but this OK. You guys seem to do the best when there are no expectations anyway.
Not every team is perfect, and no team will coast to the Finals. Edmonton is inexperienced and has limited impact outside of McDavid and Draisaitl. I think their defense is beatable. I think Talbot is a career backup with a great season but has also played an insane amount of games and that could catch up to him now. The West as a whole seems not as mighty and powerful as they once were.
You are equally as flawed as the next, so why can’t you be the team that puts it together in the Playoffs? We have seen the backdoor entry into the playoff and then a run to the Cup by LA, Carolina and a host of other teams. San Jose has the talent, the experience, and the motivation to be that team, so why not now?
All of this may seem like I am a delusional fan with blind faith. Which I probably am and I wear that title proudly. Back when I was a kid, my Dad and I would watch games in a small side room of our house, loudly and usually obnoxiously cheering our teams on. My Dad taught me that I have one favourite team, that’s it that’s all. There was no cheering for anyone else and there were no backup teams or bandwagoning once your team was out. For me, it was you live by the Sharks and you die by the Sharks.
I can’t buy into the doom and gloom that you are cooked before the second season even begins. So many things can happen from game to game that there is always room to believe. I will hold out hope to the last possible moments.
So Sharks, I may be in the minority that believes you can do the damn thing this year, but I can’t betray you no matter how much heart break you have caused me. I may be right or I may be wrong, and you go down in five games in round one.
Either way, the little kid in me from a long time ago, back in that small room eating chips and trying not to cry at a Sharks exit, will know I was there to the very end, believing you can win the Stanley Cup.