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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?



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.


Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #6 San Jose Sharks

In Hockey on May 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm
Ah memories...

Ah memories…

UGHHH, I barely had enough time to recover from watching the Leafs crap all over themselves before I needed to get my series preview out for the Sharks and Kings. DAMN YOU, NHL SCHEDULERS.

OK now I’m done. Time to preview what might be the most stressful series I will ever watch. If you’ll excuse me, I need to take off my black and teal tinted glasses, wipe the remains of the Vancouver Canucks off my shoes and throw in a fat dip before I dive in.

Much better.

The last time these two clubs met in the playoffs in 2011, I was given wonderful memories that I will be able to cherish for a long time, smacking a pesky young Kings team that appeared to be two year away from being a major contender. Well I was right about the contender part, but a year off. Damn it all…

The defending champions did the entire hockey world a favor in ridding us all of the St. Louis Blues in the first round, even if their goalie made a couple of boneheaded plays to put the Kings down 0-2. The Kings aren’t flashy. They’re quick, skilled, but will beat teams down with their physicality. And the scary thing is, they’re playing as well as they did during last year’s playoff run.

LA is the only team left in the West that can match the Sharks’ depth down the middle with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll going against Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. Defensively, the Kings should have the edge with Drew Doughty playing out of his mind once again and the rest of the D following suit. And the one spot where the Sharks should have had the edge, in goal, suddenly becomes a wash after Jonathan Quick found his game against the Blues. Well, at least he looks like he found his game because the Blues were horrendous offensively.

I’ve had a week to sit back and smile after watching the Sharks rid the Stanley Cup Playoffs of the Canucks. San Jose was better in every facet of the game en route to the first sweep in franchise history. But could the time off have spawned some rust on the Sharks express? It could have, but I have to think the Sharks used that time productively and they should be all over the Kings to open the game. My biggest worry for the Sharks is how they’ll respond to the Kings’ physical play. It’s no secret that the Canucks are soft, and outside of Raffi Torres and Brent Burns, the Sharks don’t exactly have a bunch of guys that can bang bodies.

With as much talk about how this is now Couture and Pavelski’s team, the old guard is still going to need to be very good for the Sharks to win. Yes, the Sharks’ power play dominated in round one. But the Kings aren’t sieves on the penalty kill the same way the Canucks were. Everyone is going to need to contribute offensively for the Sharks, as LA boasts four lines that can pitch in.

Oh, and Antti Niemi needs to be better this time around against the Kings after giving up 19 goals in that six-game series back in 2011. He’s a much better goalie now but he has to continue to keep his team in games like he did all year. This time, Nemo is going to need to be better than a former Conn Smythe winner. And damn it, he better be.

Los Angeles Will Win If…
Their bottom six forwards contribute each game. The top-six forwards are a wash in my opinion, but LA got contributions up and down the lineup en route to the Cup last year. In the first round, that was no exception. LA has guys that are not only bears to play against (or in Dustin Penner’s case, actual wild life), but they create chances with their forecheck. San Jose’s defense needs to be ready for that pressure and keep the puck away from the LA grinders.

San Jose Will Win If..
Antti Niemi wins the goaltending duel. Only two starting goalies left won rings as starters, and they’re matched up against each other in this series. While Quick was the biggest reason for LA winning last year, Niemi kept things steady for Chicago when they won the Cup in 2010. He needs to keep up his Vezina-worthy play in this series to down a red-hot team in the Kings

Blood will be lost, tears will be shed and my liver will take an absolute beating. I’m sure at some point, you’ll find me in my apartment curled up in the fetal position after watching these games. I don’t know if I can handle another series like the Red Wings series in 2011, but I don’t have a choice.

This series is going to be awesome, but I give the edge to the only team left that can beat the Blackhawks. Kings in 7.

Time to start drinking…

I am Ryan Thomas, and I’m a bad fan for not picking my team. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22 to join in with the misery I’m sure this series will bring me.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 San Jose Sharks

In Hockey on May 1, 2013 at 12:20 am

As always, I wait until the end to preview any series the San Jose Sharks play in. I also put more thought into this preview than all of the other previews combined, which isn’t saying much. Away we go.

After two straight President’s Trophies, the Vancouver Canucks battled a slew of injuries to win the Northwest Division and earn the 3-seed in the playoffs. I think I remember hearing something about their goaltending situation, but I’m not sure. Has anyone else heard of this?

All kidding aside, the Canucks enter the playoffs playing some of their best hockey of the year. Ryan Kesler is finally healthy and the addition of Derek Roy gives the team the offensive depth that had the ‘Nucks had been lacking throughout the year. And it came just in time, as Vancouver now looks alot like the team that went to the finals in 2011 with the Sedins, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins flying around the ice and making magic offensively.

But like always, all eyes are going to be on the man in net for Vancouver. After getting royally screwed by GM Mike Gillis, it appears Roberto Luongo is going to start game one because Cory Schneider is sidelined with a body injury. Oh, and Luongo is coming off of a game in which he got shelled by the Oilers for 7 goals. So I’m sure his confidence is high, and the Vancouver fan base’s confidence in him has to be through the roof.

Also entering the playoffs playing some outstanding hockey are the San Jose Sharks. I love what the Sharks did at the trade deadline, dumping dead weight in Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus in favor of speed and Raffi Torres. I hated the Torres addition at first, but he has played hard every shift since he put on the Sharks’ sweater, and I have no choice but to like the guy until he does something stupid. Then again, since the Canucks are a team loaded with dirty players and unlikeable personalities, it might be different this year because he isn’t hunting down citizens like Marian Hossa.

San Jose has also moved American hero Joe Pavelski back to centering the third line, which worked out well the last time it happened back in the 2011 playoffs. Three lines are capable of scoring and that should open things up a little more for Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. Speaking of Couture, he has been the best skater of the year for this team, and he’s a much different and more dangerous player than the kid that struggled against Vancouver back in 2011. Oh, and comedian turned hockey player Brent Burns has provided some much needed muscle and skill to the top line, switching from defense in a move that has been viewed as the turning point for this team’s season.

Defensively, the Sharks are going to have their hands full. Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have been brilliant, but the emergence of Matt Irwin and Justin Bruan, as well as the steady presence of Brad Stuart, gives the Sharks one of the league’s stingiest blue lines. If only there was some way for Jason “Daddy” Demers to get back in the lineup. I can’t bear to watch another game with the corpse of Scott Hannan running around getting torched. But this group is going to have their hands full with one of the league’s top offenses staring at them from across the ice.

Don’t look now, but the Sharks actually have the advantage in goal on paper. Antti Niemi has been a godsend for the Sharks all year, and kept the team’s head above water when everyone else went into the toilet back in February. If he dominated the playoffs like he did the regular season, I’ll be cool with him not winning the Vezina Trophy. But as a Shark, he has been atrocious in the playoffs. That includes a drubbing handed down by these Canucks back in 2011. Nemo will put that behind him and he’s going to need to steal at least two games if the Sharks want to advance.

I personally haven’t recovered from the way the 2011 Western Conference Finals ended. It’s one of two times in my life I have ever tried to drink myself into a coma because of a sporting event. I want revenge in the worst way possible. Make me happy, boys.

Vancouver will win if:
Ryan Kesler is the best player on the ice. Until his no-show in the 2011 Cup Finals, Kesler was putting on one of the most dominating playoff performances of all time. And because he was hurt, he should be well rested heading into this series. Both teams are deep down the middle, but this man is a difference maker.

San Jose will win if:
They win the battle of the power plays. Both teams have been good on the penalty kill this year, and for the Sharks that has been a major reason why they’re in the playoffs. On the power play, the Sharks have been suspect since getting off to a great start. They’ll need to take advantage of when the Canucks hand them the man-advantage and not allow the Canucks’ ridiculous PP to eat them alive.

I know the Sharks won the season series 3-0. I won’t say it means absolutely nothing, but Vancouver didn’t have Roy and Kesler in the lineup. These two teams are about as even as you can get, and this series is going to be a war. In the end, the stability of Niemi in San Jose’s net tops the cluster taking place in Vancouver’s. Sharks in 6 with Raffi Torres beating down Max Lapierre in the series’ final seconds.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I approve this post. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22 to tell me how much of a homer I am. Also, humor me with any musings of how the Sharks are playoff choke artists. Try to tell me something I haven’t heard before. I dare you.