Same old San Jose Sharks?
It is beginning to look that way.
This franchise, in its 23rd year in the NHL, has never won the Stanley Cup. It has never even been to the final. The Sharks were losers of the Western Conference final in back-to-back seasons, in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and while many would assume the team's inability to take the next step would mean it was about to take a step back, that never really happened either.
Thanks to the creative and aggressive managing of Doug Wilson, the Sharks have remained in the hunt. It is not uncommon, at the start of a new season, for a prognosticator or 10 to pick the Sharks to win it all.
Oh, there are doubters, too. Plenty of them. They insist this team has been led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for far too long and should have been blown up long ago. Wilson has resisted this temptation, continuing to believe despite failure and defeats he was a tweak or two away from winning it all. For that, he is to be admired.
The Vancouver Canucks made the Stanley Cup final in 2010-11, but three seasons later the organization is in disarray. The Sharks, meanwhile, have not been to the final and yet remain a team that is seemingly a bona fide Cup contender.
The team's current plight - they are leading the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, but have lost two straight and are heading to L.A. for Game 6 on Monday - will do nothing to change the opinion of either side.
Those who believe the Sharks are slowly, but surely moving in the right direction understand one more victory will put them back on the right track. They understand no team goes 16-0 in the playoffs and there are always bumps along the road to the Stanley Cup.
No reason to press the panic button.
On the other side, the doubters are shaking their heads wondering if history is about to repeat itself. Is this another season with so much promise about to be flushed down the toilet?
Those folks generally forget to factor in the notion the Sharks are up against another Stanley Cup favourite. It's not like San Jose is playing the Florida Panthers or Edmonton Oilers. The Kings are two seasons removed from winning their first Cup and have one of the most talent-packed rosters in the league. Did anybody really believe, even when they fell behind 3-0 in the series, they would go down without kicking and screaming? Not a chance.
From the Sharks point of view, the seeds of doubt have been planted. Goaltender Antti Niemi was yanked after allowing three goals. Star defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed the final 45 minutes of the game after being nailed by Jarret Stoll of the Kings with what is being called an upper body injury. Veteran centre Joe Thornton, who scored goals in the first two games of the series, is pointless in the back-to-back defeats.
Further, the Kings outshot the Sharks 41-30 and San Jose was charged with 26 giveaways compared to 11 for Los Angeles.
One of the great things about a best-of-seven series is momentum swings. You can firmly believe you have a handle on the outcome one minute and be totally confused about what is unfolding the next. I am guessing fans of the San Jose Sharks are experiencing a little déjà vu in this regard.
It is perhaps ironic that a franchise whose nickname reflects a predator that is most vicious when it senses blood, is now bleeding and vulnerable. Despite trailing the series 3-2, the Kings are in the driver's seat.
In this case it is too easy to point the finger at a veteran like Thornton, whose leadership has been questioned when the team has faltered in the past, or Marleau, who has a reputation for failing to get it done in big games? That is too easy, though. This series doesn't come down to the performance of two players.
Once and for all, the Sharks need to stand up as a group and say, "Enough!" From GM Wilson to coach Todd McLellan to Thornton and Marleau to young leader Logan Couture to veteran D-man Dan Boyle to grinders Mike Brown and Raffi Torres to rookie Tomas Hertl and the goalie, Niemi, the Sharks need to exorcise the demons.
Because if the Sharks lose Monday night in Los Angeles, they risk becoming the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after leading 3-0. Without getting too dramatic, it is hard to imagine the ship staying the course if that was to happen.
Back to accessibility links