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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Sharp’

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.


2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

In Hockey on September 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

Chicago Blackhawks

A Look Back at 2010-11
Hockey was relevant once again in the Windy City last year, with the Blackhawks were coming off their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. There was a buzz each night the Hawks took the ice, and the Madhouse on Madison was always packed to the rafters. However, with the number of players that the Blackhawks lost, the team sputtered through the regular season, unable to string together a long winning streak throughout the season to pick up traction. They also squeaked into the playoffs because the Stars couldn’t beat Minnesota in their season finale. Many people said that the team was suffering from a Cup hangover, but with as much turnaround that the team endured through the season, it was tough to expect that they would pick up where they left off, and it showed all year and into their first round matchup with their newest rival, the Vancouver Canucks. But once they got through their hiccup against Vancouver in the first three games of that first round series, the Hawks hit the accelerator in pushing the Canucks to seven games, making a really good team look pretty bad in the process. Some would argue that they should have won that game in OT, had Patrick Sharp pulled the trigger in OT a little earlier than he did. I’ve watched the game on replay (God bless my DVR), and it’s a valid argument. However, the team’s core is still intact, they got a great season from Corey Crawford in net in his first season as a starter, and they got a chance to get some of their future players a shot to play. In 2011-12, look the hell out. Grade: C (I knew there would be a drop-off, but if you would have said they were going to back in to the playoffs, I would have called you a whack-job. This team should have been better.)

A Look Ahead to 2011-12

Marian Hossa looks to have his first healthy season as a Blackhawk.

Once again, the team’s forwards are going to be very top heavy and loaded with dangerous weapons in their top six. It all starts with Jonathan Toews, who had his finest season to date last year. He set a career high in goals, assists and points, and led the team in +/- with a 25 rating.  If you were to ask me to pick from all of the players in the league to build a team around, Toews would be third behind Crosby and Ovechkin. He’s now a beast on offense, a very good defensive forward, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Patrick Kane is coming off of wrist surgery, but he plans on being ready for camp. Kane is s0meone that I’m expecting to take the leap into 90-point territory this season. With Toews dishing him the biscuit, that number isn’t out of the question. Patrick Sharp was re-signed to a five-year deal this off-season, locking him and his phenomenal salad up for the future. Sharp should hit the 30-goal plateau once again for the Hawks. Marian Hossa is hoping to be healthy for an entire season this year, and he better be if he plans on producing the numbers that earned him a massive contract a few years ago. Even though he’s been around forever, Hossa is only 32 and is still very good on the puck, offensively and defensively. He made an unbelievable play with the puck to set up Ben Smith’s game six winner against Vancouver last year. He won’t reach the 100-point mark that he hit with Atlanta a few years ago, but he’s still capable of 35 goals and 75 points. Michael Frolik came over from Florida last year, and although he didn’t put up big numbers, he is still young and has plenty of potential. He could find a nice home centering Hossa on the second line. Viktor Stalberg and Ben Smith will battle newcomer Andrew Brunette for the left spot on the top line. As much as I think Stalberg can play top minutes, Bruno should be the favorite to land that spot, and I think he’ll do well as the old guy on the team. He’s still got plenty of goals left in his stick. Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland lead the charge on the checking line, and each guy has shown that they can score as well. However, each guy is known for their defense and agitation of the opposition’s top players. Other newcomers Rostislav Olesz, Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers will see time in the lineup as well. Adding Carcillo, who is already pumped for the team’s first game against Vancouver, and Mayers brings some sandpaper that was missing last year. Some of those newcomers are just place-holders for future Hawks Marcus Kruger and Jeremy Morin. For a group that I thought wasn’t deep enough last year, they regrouped and are now fully loaded. They’ll be an offensive juggernaut once again this year. Like I said earlier, the NHL needs to look the hell out. Grade: B+ (Three lines will be capable of burning the opposition each night.)

Nick Leddy will have an increased role for the Blackhawks this year.

The Hawks shed some defensive weight in Chris Campoli and Brian Campbell (as well as his massive contract that crippled the team’s cap space) over the offseason. They return a pair of the league’s best defenders in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The two have been defensive partners, but they spent some time split up last season, and it might have been the best decision the team made. While Campbell, who had one of his best seasons last year, was counted on as a puck mover, the team may have found his replacement in young Nick Leddy. Leddy was paired with Keith in the playoffs last year, and I feel like he should remain paired with Keith to help his development. If Leddy develops well, that gives Chicago three very good defensemen. Steve Montador joins the team and brings a physical presence along with a big right-hand shot from the point. He’s a definite upgrade as a defenseman over Campoli. Niklas Hjalmarsson returns to the team’s blue line and remains the team’s best shot blocker on D. Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto come on board as free agents and will compete with each other for the final spot on defense. John Scott is still on the team as well, but his fists are more useful than his stick is. I don’t like this year’s defense as much as I liked last year’s squad, but that’s not to say they’re a bad squad by any means. Grade: B (Their top-five are going to be rock solid. They don’t have much in the pipeline though, so a pair of injuries could really hurt.)

Corey Crawford will look to avoid a sophomore slump this season for the Blackhawks.

Corey Crawford enters the season as the team’s number one goalie. He earned that job last season and he should rightfully have the chance to be the team’s top option. He had a great playoff last year against Vancouver as well, keeping the team in each game of the series. He damn near stole game seven of the series as well. So with a new contract and the belief of his teammates, Crawford will need to avoid a drop-off in his second season. While I don’t think he will, Joel Quenneville has been notorious for keeping his goalies on a short leash. With Marty Turco done in Chicago, the team was intent on giving the backup job to Alexander Salak, who was great over in Sweden last year. However, they surprised many around the league when they signed Ray Emery to come to camp on a tryout. Emery was great when he signed on with the Ducks last year, but no one was willing to give him a contract. The Goalie Guild, a very fine website that deals strictly with the men between the pipes, broke down the Emery signing for everyone involved in the Chicago net. I liked the move by the Hawks before I read the article, and I loved it after reading it. Salak has no experience at the NHL level and Emery, who should be playing with a chip on his shoulder after a great year last year, provides a great backup plan if Crawford falters. It’s a low-risk, high-reward gamble by the Hawks. Well played, Chicago. Grade: B+ (Despite the Emery signing, Crawford is the guy for this team. having Emery should push Crawford to have a strong camp.)

The Hawks made some great moves this offseason to get tighter on defense and tougher down low. They got a bonus by signing Emery to a tryout as well. They’re going to score in bunches, and will give the Red Wings some serious trouble for the Central Division crown. This team should be expected to make a deep run in the playoffs as well. I can only hope they meet up with Vancouver again in the playoffs, because those series are a ton of fun to watch. 2nd in Central, 5th in West.