It seems that as of late, night in and night out, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion San Jose Sharks continue to find new ways to impress their critics more than the preceding game and give hopeful yet historically heart-broken fans more reason to truly buy in to the concept that this is finally a new type of Sharks team.
The hockey world will rightfully continue to doubt the soon-to-be champs until Lord Stanley's Cup glistens over captain Joe Thornton's head. They will continue to nay-say, continue to needle Sharks fans for having the audacity to believe in their team, and continue to ask the pesky, lingering question: "Why should we believe this year will be any different?"
My only hesitation in answering such a quandary is that I am at loss for where to begin.
If you prefer to look at the season as a whole, it has been nothing but encouraging. The Sharks got through their struggles early and rose to the challenge of fighting their way back—not only to regain a playoff spot, but also to guarantee themselves a fourth consecutive division title and a playoff seed no lower than third.
Unlike previous years where the Sharks secured the division early—leaving the only late-season drama to be whether or not they would hang on for a potential No. 1 seed or the President's Trophy—the Sharks have had to endure a tough fight for their playoff lives this year. This struggle has seen them begin to play their very best hockey very late in the year while still enjoying a top playoff position.
Their scoring has also been amazingly balanced. If Joe Pavelski can manage one more goal in his last three games, it will give the Sharks seven different 20-goal scorers. Rookie Logan Couture led the team for much of the year in goals, before a recent surge by Patrick Marleau saw the former captain assume the lead, and the oft-maligned Torrey Mitchell is enjoying perhaps his finest season.
But what have they done for us lately?
Lately they have been better than ever. They are an amazing 26-4-4 since January 13, feasting on points and posting goals galore. Look at just their last three games.
Last Thursday, after months of hard work, the Sharks faced the desperate Dallas Stars with the chance to finally clinch a playoff berth. They responded unbelievably well, shutting the Stars out 6-0 to punch their postseason tickets in their very first opportunity.
Many projected a letdown in the following game against the Anaheim Ducks, and for a period they looked prophetic. The Sharks fell behind 2-0 in the first period while managing just six shots on goal before coming back to win 4-2 in regulation.
Then came Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings. Unlikely as it may have looked in December, the Sharks found themselves with a chance to clinch their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title. They went on to demolish the Kings 6-1 while chasing the pesky Jonathan Quick from the game, pinning the Kings with their worst loss all year.
This ability to close things out at the first opportunity is something the Sharks have desperately lacked in the past in the post season. Granted the regular season is a different animal, but any reasonable fan cannot deny the favorable omen.
What is left to play for?
As mentioned above, Joe Pavelski is one goal away from the 20-goal mark, enjoying what is already a career year. Joe Thornton can reach 1,000 career points with just one goal or assist in his last three games. If the Sharks can win two of their final three games, not only would it likely ensure a No. 2 overall seed, but it would also make head coach Todd McLellan the winningest coach in NHL history through his first three seasons.
With the way the Sharks have been rising to the challenge since mid-January, expect nothing less than to watch Team Teal bring each of these to fruition. Once they do, there is no reason to think they will be satisfied with merely that.
Keep the Faith!
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