Forget the playoffs of the past. This San Jose Sharks team is different.
The Sharks teams of the past have been built on offense, relying on players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to produce superstar numbers in a tournament where superstar numbers are rarely sustainable.
Since the trade deadline, San Jose has had an entirely different team on the ice, an entirely different style of play and the confidence it takes to win at any cost.
“The weirdest aspect of this different Sharks team is that it is still a work in progress,” the San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Purdy wrote on Monday. “It's a product of the lockout-truncated season and coach Todd McLellan's effort to find the right combinations.”
The 2013 Sharks are not built on offense. Defense is San Jose’s biggest strength as they head into the second round.
The Sharks took down the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night to sweep the third seed in the Western Conference—the first series sweep in Sharks franchise history—and it only proves how far the team has come since it lost 16 of 21 games in the month of February and into early March.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson promised the team would not rebuild, despite midseason troubles. Instead, Wilson promised to “refresh” the roster.
He traded Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus, while adding Raffi Torres and Scott Hannon. Suddenly, a team built on strength and experience turned into a team built on speed and grit. Add that to an already strong penalty kill and reliable power play, and the Sharks seemed to have something on the ice that was sustainable.
Do not discount Antti Niemi, though. Arguably the NHL’s top goalie this season, Niemi has been one of the only consistently reliable parts of the Sharks’ up-and-down season. The best part: his success in net has translated into the playoffs, as he averaged just two goals allowed per game in San Jose’s series sweep of the Canucks.
Logan Couture, probably the league's most underrated player at the moment, has grown as a competitor on the ice for the Sharks and has clearly taken over as the leader in teal. His three goals and five assists in four games so far has set the bar for superstar players in the playoffs.
It has been a coming-out party for Couture on the elevated stage that is the NHL playoffs, and his talent seems to only increase as the games get bigger—an asset in a player the Sharks have been missing in so many past playoff series.
At the moment, the Sharks have it all working. The Canucks had a hard time keeping up with the speed and relentless nature of the offense on the ice, and an even harder time against the Sharks’ gritty defense.
If Niemi can continue to post reliable numbers, much like he did when he won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, then San Jose will be a tough out no matter which team they face in the second round or even into the Western Conference finals.
For once there are no expectations in San Jose, yet the team is as well-rounded as it has ever been, and there have been some good teams in the very successful franchise in San Jose.
Yes, this is the Sharks franchise's best chance at winning a Stanley Cup based on the fact this team is built on defense and a strong special teams. Few other teams in Sharks history have been built as strong defensively, playing this well and scoring so timely.
As in the playoffs of the past, anything but a Stanley Cup berth will be a disappointment for the Sharks, but this team seems to be as prepared as ever to advance the franchise over that hump.
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