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Columbus Blue Jackets 2013-14 Season Preview

In Hockey on August 26, 2013 at 11:48 pm
Can Sergei Bobrovsky replicate his Vezina Trophy winning performance? He's going to need to be the top cop on duty once again for the Jackets to contend.

Can Sergei Bobrovsky replicate his Vezina Trophy winning performance?

2013 Recap
Everyone in the hockey world was predicting the Blue Jackets to be the worst team in hockey in 2013. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m so damn happy that wasn’t the case.

Backstopped by (disputed) Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, the Jackets made a serious push to make the playoffs for only the second time in their history. Yes, they fell short, but for maybe the first time in franchise history, the team’s front office took a significant step forward in actually acquiring the pieces to be a contender, and it showed when they dealt for Marian Gaborik and his gigantic contract from the Rangers.

But despite the inhuman play of Bobrovsky and the efforts of a sneaky good defense, the Jackets were ultimately done in by the lack of production by the offensive unit. Yes, Gaborik was good when he was acquired. But this team’s leading scorer when it was all said and done was Vinny Prospal who scored only 30 points.

Oof.

In all, it was a fun season for what proved to be a really likeable hockey team. And we got #Lumbus out of it thanks to a strange camaraderie the team’s PR staff developed with the Los Angeles Kings, which can’t be overlooked.

Forwards
General Manager Jarmo Kekelainen identified the team’s glaring need for more goals, adding Nathan Horton to the fold to go along with Gaborik on the right side. Good thing they have a pair of talented centers to pass them the puck.

/Sees top-scoring centers were Mark Letestu and Artem Anisimov

Uhhhhhh, oh. At least both wingers are healthy.

/Remembers Horton had shoulder surgery

Aw shit…

Look, I like the way Letestu performed last year and Anisimov is a nice player, but if this team is going to really challenge for a playoff spot, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen have to take their games to another level. Offensively, those two are the most gifted offensive centers and it’s up to them to find some consistency and get the puck to Gaborik. I like the intangibles Dubinsky brings, but two goals in 26 games is mind-boggling. Yes, he can pass it a little bit, but I’d like to see him shoot a little more.

Good news for Lumbus fans is that youngsters Cam Atkinson and Matt Calvert had nice years for the team last year and one should evolve into the team’s top left wing. Vets RJ Umberger, Nick Foligno and Jared Boll bring some physicality to the forward unit as well.

I love the possibilities of this lineup, but man do a couple guys need to elevate their game for the Jackets to hang in the Metropolitan.

Defense
The Blue Jackets finished ninth in the NHL in goals against average. Yes, lots of that had to do with the goaltender. But the defense deserves at least a little bit of credit. The trio of Fedor Tyutin, Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski provide a nice veteran presence. One guy that has gotten lots of criticism (sometimes rightly so) because of his advanced stats is Johnson, but he’s the team’s best puck-mover on D and he really seems to enjoy what is going on with this organization.

Those three, combined with youngsters Nikita Nikitin, Tim Erixon, etc. give the Jackets a solid group that will be charged with keeping the puck away from Bobrovsky. Look for prospect Ryan Murray to come out of junior and make the roster this year and give the team the franchise defenseman the team has never possessed (sorry, Rostislav Klesla).

Goaltending
My best friend is a die-hard Flyers fan, and he told me before last year that Bobrovsky would be better than the space cadet in Philly despite the major difference in talent. I thought he was crazy. I was very, very wrong. I loved what Bob did for this team. In front of him, the Jackets played with confidence and that’s something that didn’t happen in the final four years of the Steve Mason era. Despite his ridiculous numbers, he’s still going to be under the microscope this year. It’s going to be interesting, that’s for damn sure.

Backing up is journeyman netminder Curtis McElhinney, who won’t see a ton of time because this team is going to ride Bobrovsky for much of the year.

The Hat Trick
1. Bob the Top Cop
Sergei Bobrovsky is going to play more games in a nine-month period than he ever has in his career. I thought a two-year deal for Bob was a great move by Kekelainen, and now he has to show that he wasn’t just the product of a shortened season. In his only full year as a starter, Bobrovsky wore down at the end of the 2010-11 season and lost his job as Flyers starting netminder. Think about that for a second.
How will he fare as the main guy for an entire season and will he cave as the defending Vezina winner? I can’t wait to find out.

Not being a member of the Flyers has helped so far.

2. Finding a Top Pivot
I know I already covered this, but someone is going to have to take over on the top line and get the puck to Gaborik. Letestu is a smart player and had a nice year last year, but is he really a top center?  Yes, the team added a pair of centers in Marko Dano and Alex Wennberg at the draft, but those two are a few years away. Will Dubinsky take over that spot? He’s going to have every chance to. Ditto for Johansen.

3. A New Wave of Foes
Columbus has spent the last few years playing in the tight-checking Central Division. Those days are gone and the offensive skill waiting for them in the Metropolitan is not something I would be looking forward to if my team switched divisions. It may sting for a team on the upswing, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a drop-off from having to face Crosby, Malkin, Giroux, etc. all season. Yes, the decrease in travel should help, but it won’t be an easy task.

But man, will those games against the Flyers be fun.

Prediction
The rebuild has gone well so far, but I don’t think this team is ready just yet. Yes, they’ll be fun to watch and I love the energy around this squad and organization. The Blue Jacket fans have been through hell in their 13 years of existence and they deserve a winner. But I don’t think it will be this year. They’ll compete hard, but fall short in a loaded division. Sorry, Lumbus. Sixth in the Metropolitan.

Must-Follow Blue Jackets Twitter Feed
It doesn’t get much better than the team’s official account. They interact with their fans well and interact with other teams in a fun way. These guys are one of the model feeds in the sports industry, along with their pals from LA.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I hope the Jackets win every game against the Flyers this year. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22, because why the hell not?

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Carolina Hurricanes 2013-14 Season Preview

In Hockey on August 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Hello everyone. The NHL season is growing closer and normalcy will finally be restored to the world. Since I need to get my hockey fix in (no one in Iowa wants to talk puck in August, which might surprise some of you), I’ll be attempting to preview all 30 NHL teams and how I think they’re going to do in the 2013-14 season.

Note: I don’t analyze any advanced stats and all predictions are done based on the eye test. Is it lazy? Sure is. But this is all for fun and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Damn it feels good to be writing about hockey again. Let’s start in the newly formed Metropolitan Division and the Carolina Hurricanes.

The health of Cam Ward is going to be crucial if the Hurricanes expect to compete in 2013-14.

The health of Cam Ward is going to be crucial if the Hurricanes expect to compete in 2013-14.

2013 Recap
Optimism was buzzing in Raleigh to start the abbreviated season with the additions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal to take some of the scoring pressure off of captain Eric Staal. While Semin, Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty enjoyed success, the rest of the Hurricanes struggled. That included Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner posting a combined +/- of -39. Ouch.

But one could argue that the Canes were done in by the injury to Cam Ward, who played only 17 games on the year. I like both Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, but they were over-matched trying to hold the fort down and the Canes finished 29th in the league is goals-against. The stretch that doomed the ‘Canes came from Mar. 14-Apr. 20 when Carolina lost 14-of-16 games to fall out of the race.

Given the noise Carolina made prior to the year, they may have been the biggest letdown in the NHL last year, finishing 13th in the East.

Forwards
The good news for the Canes is that they possess an offense that will still keep opponents on their toes. The top line returns once again and should be a force if Tlusty can replicate his breakout season from last year. There’s no way that Jordan Staal and Skinner can struggle the way they did last year and I feel that they will be better. A healthy Tuomo Ruutu would help out a ton and fill a void on the wing on the second line. I’m told by Hurricanes bloggers @Section_328 that he’s healthy and ready to go, so there’s that.

Carolina didn’t make a ton of moves up front in the off-season, but they did bring in Nathan Gerbe and Aaron Palushaj, and fifth-overall pick Elias Lindholm should compete for a roster spot, assuming he doesn’t stay in Sweden for another year. This is a competent, if not solid group of forwards, but one major injury to one of the top-six forwards away from serious trouble.

Defense
After finishing 29th in the league in goals-against, the only way to go is up, right? (Sees team signed Mike Komisarek) Oh, uh, never mind.

All kidding aside, I like the acquisition of Andrej Sekera to a blue line that’s not a deep unit. Joni Pitkanen was out for over half of the year and that cost the team dearly. If healthy, Pitkanen joins Sekera, young stud Justin Faulk and bruising veteran Tim Gleason in the top four. I would like to see the Canes give Ryan Murphy a look this year, but if keeping pucks out of the net was an issue and I don’t see how adding a small puck-mover to be the solution.  Jay Harrison is a lock for a spot on the third pair, leaving Komisarek to battle with Bobby Sanguinetti and others for the finals spot. Again, health is the key for this unit to be successful and keep the pressure off the offense.

Goaltending
As much as people want to kill the Canes’ defense, the loss of Cam Ward can’t be understated. A full year from the former Conn Smythe winner should be a huge boost to the Hurricanes this year and I like it because I’ve been big on Ward for years. But GM Jim Rutherford did something this off-season he hasn’t done since Ward took over the starting gig; bring in some competition.

The signing of Anton Khudobin gives coach Kirk Muller someone that can not only spell Ward, but push him for playing time. Also, if Ward suffers another freak injury, someone can carry the mail and keep the Canes competitive. The duo should be able to clean up more of the mistakes than the Peters-Ellis duo did last year, but they can still expect to see tons of rubber.

The Hat Trick (Three Keys to the Season)
1. Cam Ward’s Workload – Like I said above, Khudobin gives the Canes a capable backup and won’t force Ward to play 70+ games each year. Some goalies can handle that, and Ward has shown he can, but rest is key for a deep playoff run.

2. Jeff Skinner – Since he stole the Calder Trophy from Logan Couture, Skinner has posted 33 goals in 106 games. He’s still very young and there’s no way he has peaked already. A full year playing with Jordan Staal will be good for him not only offensively, but his defensive game as well.

3. Adapting to the New Division – Hey Canes fans, remember how fun it was to play Florida, Tampa and Winnipeg six times a year? Cherish the memories, because those three have been replaced by the Rangers, Penguins and Flyers (stop laughing at the last one, you get my point). The competition is going to be much tougher and the Canes can’t dig themselves a hole like they did last year if they want to compete.

Prediction
I admit, I don’t get a chance to watch many Hurricanes games. I’ve always enjoyed this team and think they’re one of the better franchises in the league. But what I did see last year wasn’t pretty and I don’t think they made enough improvements on the blue line to push for a playoff spot. They’ll battle, but still fall short. Seventh in Metropolitan.

Must-Follow Hurricanes Twitter Feed
I already mentioned them once in this post, and that is @Section_328. Those guys are all over the Hurricanes’ beat, and they’re pretty damn funny to boot. Follow and enjoy.

I am Ryan Thomas, I promise to watch more Hurricanes games this year. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22, and yell at me for being wrong about this post.

A Dozen Doses of What Could Have Been

In Hockey on August 5, 2013 at 12:08 am

As sports fans, we have all sat back and played armchair quarterback when it comes to our favorite teams. The “what if” factor is what makes sports the greatest bit of reality television on the planet. And no matter how many highs your team might get to experience, it’s the ones that got away that seem to stick with fans more.

Sadly, this look usually comes at the end of a Sharks' playoff series.

Sadly, this look usually comes at the end of a Sharks’ playoff series.

This is one of those lists, dealing with my beloved San Jose Sharks

I don’t need to re-hash what the playoffs have been like for the Sharks, who have remained one of the NHL’s top teams for a decade (although words like pair, torture and hell are three that come to mind). Sure, they’ll always have the upset of the Blues in 2000, the run to the West Finals in 2004 and staving off Detroit in 2011. But even with all of the success, I have been stuck wondering what might have been in my 13 years as a fan of this team. I saw a Tweet where someone asked a fellow Sharks’ fan if they could pick one game to change the outcome to, which one would it be? I feel that since it’s a Saturday night and I’m making friends with a few Miller Lites, I would not only make one choice, but rank a dozen of them.

And after putting together my list, it’s a good thing I’m drinking.

Honorable Mention

Game 7 vs. Toronto, 1994 Western Conference Semifinals
Yes, I know that the Garpenlov crossbar and the fact Sandis Ozolinsh passed on a great shooting opportunity will stick with Sharks fans that have been with the team from the beginning. But that’s the thing, I haven’t. So having said that, it gets a stick tap, but nothing more from me.

Game 3 vs. Dallas, 2008 Western Conference Semifinals
Facing a 2-0 deficit and pushing for a win on the road to get back in, the Sharks do what we all expected them to in overtime of game 3. That of course is allow a goal to a guy that scored all of 18 career NHL goals (Mattias Norstrom) to get the game winner in overtime on a shot that hit Jeremy Roenick’s stick. And you call Patrick Marleau a choker, eh JR?

Game 2 vs. Anaheim, 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals
This series will always bother me because of how good the Sharks were in the regular season and the amount of rubber they launched at Jonas Hiller in this series. Down by a game, the Sharks outshot the Ducks 44-26 but still lost 3-2 because the guy at the other end of the ice was better than Evgeni Nabokov. And no, this is not the last time Nabokov will be mentioned on this list.

Game 3 vs. Colorado, 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals
I thought the Sharks were lucky to be tied at 1-1 heading into game 3 of this series. And this game turned into the Craig Anderson show quickly, as the Colorado netminder stopped 51 shots to record the shutout. But hey, at least a Shark scored in the game. Of course, it was when Dan Boyle inadvertently whipped a behind-the-net clearing attempt into his own net (although I maintain it hit TJ Galiardi’s stick on the clear).But hey, if Nabokov is holding the near post properly, that puck doesn’t go in.

Thankfully, Boyle redeemed himself in game 4, Joe Pavelski bailed the Sharks out for the second time in the series and San Jose went on to hammer Colorado in games 5 & 6 to win the series.

Game 1 vs. Vancouver, 2011 Western Conference Finals
A dead tired team only a few days removed from a battle with Detroit held a lead late in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals. While I was having dreams of stealing home ice advantage, the Cancuks slipped a pair of goals past Antti Niemi in the third period en route to winning the game.

With two days between games, the Sharks could have gotten some serious momentum from the win and then some rest before game two. Damn it all…

Think those were bad? It only gets worse from here.

No. 12, Game 1 vs. Dallas, 2008 Western Conference Semifinals
People might not remember that several experts pegged the Sharks as Cup favorites heading into the playoffs. However, having not beaten the Stars in regulation since 2006, the Sharks had to prove that their 7-game series with the Flames in the first round was only a hiccup.

So naturally, they came out flat and the Stars jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods. But hope that was once lost was found again when San Jose tied the game late in the third on a Jonathan Cheechoo goal. But even with that momentum, the Sharks gave away home ice in OT when Brendan Morrow hammered home a slap shot after a goal mouth scramble. Turns out Morrow was just getting started, as he went on to dominate this series.

No. 11, Game 3 vs. Calgary, 2008 Western Conference Quarterfinals
This game boggles my mind to this day because of how good the Sharks looked early on. Not only did they jump out to a 3-0 lead, they did so in the FIRST FOUR MINUTES OF THE GAME. The Sharks also chased playoff nemesis Miikka Kiprusoff from the net in favor of 86-year old Curtis Joseph. It was all good and the Sharks were about to take a 2-1 lead, right? No. Calgary charged back into the game and Joseph looked like CuJo circa 1999. To top it all off, the Flames got the winner from Owen Nolan with just over three minutes to go in the game and what should have been a sure win was gone.

And the Sharks passed on Nolan (my favorite player of all time) the previous offseason to sign Roenick.

But the fact remains, if the Sharks win this game, this series is over in five and the Sharks can get some rest before the Dallas series.

No. 10, Game 7 vs. Colorado, 2002 Western Conference Semifinals
This year marked the season the Sharks finally broke through and won their first ever division title. After laying waste to Phoenix in the opening round, the Sharks met a Colorado powerhouse in round two. After six games, nothing was solved and it came down to a do-or-die game seven in Denver.

Now, there aren’t many people around the NHL that don’t care for Teemu Selanne. After this game, some Sharks fans still find it difficult to forgive him (I have moved on, but not everyone has). After a net-mouth scramble, Selanne had a chance at an open net wrap-around that would have tied the game at 1. Instead, Patrick Roy made the save as one of the greatest finishers of all time couldn’t tuck it home. Colorado would hold on and win the game 1-0, giving a 15-year old me a taste of things to come.

Why don’t I rank this game higher? Because the team waiting on the winner is the most stacked team I’ve ever seen in the 2002 Red Wings. Colorado could hang with them, I say the Wings would have DUSTED the Sharks. But then again, we’ll never know the result.

No. 9, Game 7 vs. Los Angeles, 2013 Western Conference Semifinals
Let me be clear, this loss HURT. The Sharks matched the then-defending champions every step of the way in this seven-game classic. The only glaring miss (because I was HAMMERED for this game and don’t remember everything) was Pavelski missing an open net. If you or anyone want to blame the man, stop. It was a bouncing puck that he shot as quick as he could and Jonathan Quick got to it. That doesn’t excuse the Sharks’ play in the opening half of the game, which LA dominated.

So why isn’t this one higher? Because the series could have (should have) been over and not needed a seventh game. More on that later.

No. 8, Game 1 vs. Chicago, 2010 Western Conference Finals
I was jacked for this because my team had the chance to meet the team that all of my friends cheer for. After Jason Demers scored mid-way through the opening period, the Sharks buzzed Antti Niemi and the Chicago net for a total of 44 shots on goal in the game. Of course, Niemi didn’t allow another goal for the remainder of the game and after Chicago tied the game in the second on a HORRENDOUS goal given up by Nabokov to Patrick Sharp, I knew the Sharks were in trouble.

Known alcohol, buffet and boating enthusiast Dustin Byfuglien would score in the third to kick-start a Chicago sweep on their way to a Stanley Cup.

I don’t know if winning game one would have changed the outcome of the series, but come on. Win a freaking game. I still have to hear a bunch of BS about this sweep from my friends.

No. 7, Game 4 vs. Detroit, 2007 Western Conference Semifinals
What sticks out the most about this particular team is that they were built to make a run at the Cup after trading for Bill Guerin, Craig Rivet and Mike Grier before the trade deadline. Through three games, the Sharks had the West’s top-seeded Red Wings on the ropes, leading the series 2-1. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Sharks allowed a pair of late second and third period goals before Matt Schneider capped the comeback in OT. Series tied, and was basically over as the Sharks never recovered from this heart-breaker.

Yes, I know the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Ducks were waiting in the conference finals had the Sharks won this game and series. I liked their chances against Anaheim that year more than I did in 2009. But alas.

No. 6, Game 1 vs. Calgary, 2004 Western Conference Final
This series will drive me crazy until the day I die. I feel that this is the best chance the Sharks have ever had to make it to the Finals, and they dropped the ball. Yes, I could point to the other three losses in the series, but game one is the one that irritates me to this day. The Sharks overcame 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to send the game to overtime, only to be beaten on a goal by Steve Montador. At that point in his career, Montador had scored a whopping three goals in his career.

Of course, the Sharks flopped at home in games two and five and were done in six. This started the debate on whether or not the Sharks should have dealt Nabokov (especially after his holdout to start the 2002-03 season) and kept Kiprusoff. But Kiprusoff was atrocious in his audition to take the starting job and S.O.L. with Nabokov and Toskala playing better in front of him leading up to the trade to Calgary.

But hey, at least the Sharks turned the second round pick from the Flames into Marc-Edouard Vlasic. That counts for something right?

Right?!?!

(Crickets)

No. 5, Game 6 vs. Dallas, 2008 Western Conference Semifinals
I felt awesome about the Sharks’ chances heading into this game. The Sharks battled back from down 3-0 to close the series deficit to 3-2 and if they could win in the house of horrors knows as American Airlines Center, our boys had a chance to complete the ultimate comeback. The teams settled nothing in regulation, and all hell broke loose in overtime. First, the greatest save I have ever seen with my own two eyes. I thought the series was over and Nabby gave his team a clutch save when he had routinely failed to do so in the past. Minutes later, Patrick Marleau had a golden chance to end the game thanks to a great pass from Roenick. But of course Marty Turco was able to stop the shot after trying some sort of dropkick, and the game continued.

And continued.

And continued.

Finally, in the fourth overtime, Brian Campbell cemented his legacy in Sharks lore, taking a tripping penalty that led to Morrow’s series winning tap-in powerplay goal. Think of how the refs swallow the whistles in overtime playoff games and let that sink in.

And to top it all off, I was supposed to be studying for a final exam that night. No studying got done and I barely passed my final. Damn you, Brian Campbell!

No. 4, Game 5 vs. Detroit, 2011 Western Conference Semifinals
This game was over after two periods. Over. The Red Wings had no answer for the Sharks and another five-game defeat was lurking. But unlike the previous year, the Wings got a few bounces and scored three times in the third period, sending the series back to Detroit for a sixth game that everyone knew the Wings were going to win. It’s another game that could have given the Sharks some extra rest for some of their injured players (namely Dany Heatley). Instead, I could hardly sleep with the thought of the Sharks blowing a 3-0 series lead to a team that’s generally disliked by the hockey community.

Could the extra rest have made a difference against Vancouver? Possibly. I know they would have been fresher for the opening game of the series. Even though the series had a happy ending, I still think it was inexcusable to let this game get away.

No. 3, Game 5 vs. Vancouver, 2011 Western Conference Finals
13 freaking seconds. That’s how close the Sharks were to surviving and sending this series back to San Jose. And to top it all off, the egregious missed icing call on Dan Boyle that led to the tying goal is something that still drives me mental. And to make things better, the Sharks continued to launch rubber at Roberto Luongo through the first overtime and into the second.

We all know how it ended, with the worst bounce this franchise has ever experienced. That’s the image that will always stick with me. If Daniel Sedin had ripped a wrister clean over Antti Niemi’s shoulder, I would have been less upset. But that f’ing stanchion and the perfect bounce to the only guy that knew where the puck was is a sequence I still haven’t recovered from.

Thankfully, the Sharks were able to get a bit of revenge in 2013, cashing in with a sweep of a team that’s impossible to like. It doesn’t erase the scar, but man was it nice.

No. 2, Game 2 vs. Los Angeles, 2013 Western Conference Semifinals.
It was damn near impossible for the Sharks to score on Jonathan Quick in this series, especially at Staples Center. So three goals should have been enough, or so I thought. The combination of a Brad Stuart penalty and a BULLS*** delay of game penalty on Vlasic gave the Kings a 2-man advantage.

Let me be clear on something, I have no problem with the delay of game penalty in the NHL. It’s one of the few black-and-white penalties that this game has. But there was ZERO intent for Vlasic to fire the puck over the glass on the PK, And to top it off, THE PUCK HIT JEFF CARTER’S STICK ON THE WAY OUT. Hey NHL, I like your sport and your operation. But not only should intention be called into question when calling this penalty, but it needs to be reviewable. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Even down two men, I had enough faith in the Sharks’ penalty kill and Niemi to fend off the Kings sometimes anemic powerplay. But of course, they struck twice and got a couple gifts from the Sharks PK in the process. First, Logan Couture failed to clear a puck leading to Dustin Brown’s tying goal. OK, get a guy back on the ice and play for OT. I knew it was possible and I expected it.

Of course, I was proven wrong when seconds later when Niemi kicked out a fat rebound to Trevor Lewis who abused Joe Pavelski on his way to smacking the puck into a yawning cage, giving the Kings a 2-0 lead in the series.

I didn’t panic after this game, but I wasn’t happy. Assuming the rest of the series plays out the same way, the Sharks are playing Chicago in the West Finals, not LA.

No. 1, Game 3 vs. Edmonton, 2006 Western Conference Semifinals
But as bad as everything above was, this game is my nominee for the one I want back the worst. Leading 2-1 late in the third with a 2-0 lead in the series, Raffi Torres beats Vesa Toskala with a perfect shot to even the game and send it to overtime.

The Sharks’ best chance came in double overtime when league MVP Joe Thornton and Rocket Richard winner Cheechoo had a 2-on-1. Thornton made a perfect pass to Cheech in the slot and he rifled it straight to the top shelf, only to see the puck find its way into the diving glove of Dwayne Roloson.

Know that sinking feeling you get when you know a goal should have happened, didn’t, and you knew trouble was coming? That’s exactly the feeling I had.

Sure enough, in the third overtime, Shawn Horcoff slid a puck past Toskala in the goal mouth and all momentum the Sharks had was gone as Edmonton won the next three games.

Now is this one as demoralizing an ending as some of the others on this list? Not even close. So why is it at the top of my list?

Remember at that point in the playoffs, the West’s top four seeds were all eliminated at this point, and the West was destined to go through San Jose. The Sharks had the chance to put their foot on the Oilers’ throats and advance to the West Finals where they would have met a young and not-quite-ready Mighty Ducks team. And yes, they could have sucked it up and won any of the three games that followed. But a triple-OT defeat is crushing to any team, and the Sharks’ “playoff choker” label that has followed the Sharks for years might as well have been born after this game.

I know hockey experts want to disregard the 2005-06 season and call it an anomaly, but people still recognize the Hurricanes as Stanley Cup Champions, damn it! This was the ultimate chance for the Sharks to give themselves a chance, and it didn’t happen.

So that’s it. I hope you’re all done with however many bottles of whiskey this persuaded you to drink. And if you think I’m wrong, please let me know which one tops your list.

My name is Ryan Thomas and I’m making a call to my therapist now. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22 and I promise I’ll be more positive than this at all times.