Although Ron Wilson had a successful tenure in five seasons as coach of the San Jose Sharks, it's hard to argue that the team made a mistake letting him go earlier this year.
Wilson returns to San Jose for the first time as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night as the league-leading Sharks seek their eighth straight victory.
Hired by San Jose in December 2002, Wilson guided the Sharks to a 206-134-38 record with 19 ties in four-plus seasons with the club. He surpassed Darryl Sutter as the franchise's all-time wins leader on March 1.
Under Wilson, the Sharks were the only team to have won at least one playoff series in each of the last four years. San Jose advanced to the Western Conference final for the first time in 2004, and won Pacific Division titles in 2004 and 2008 under Wilson's guidance.
Another outstanding regular season in 2007-08 made the Sharks a favorite to reach their first Stanley Cup finals, but San Jose was eliminated in the second round for the third consecutive season - this time by Dallas. That latest playoff failure marked the end for Wilson, who was fired on May 12 after his team was ousted by a lower-seeded opponent for the third time in four postseasons.
"In most ways I was shocked when Doug (Wilson) told me, but in some ways I guess I was not surprised," Ron Wilson said of his firing. "When it happens when you don't expect it, you're disappointed.
I can honestly say that I couldn't be prouder of my work here. I think our team's record speaks for itself. Obviously we didn't win a Stanley Cup while I was here. I'm disappointed in that as any coach would be."
Wilson wasn't out of work long. The Maple Leafs (9-9-6) made him the 27th coach in team history on June 10, hoping he could reverse the fortunes of a team that has missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
The Leafs ended a five-game winless streak with a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday, and got power-play goals from Matt Stajan and Mikhail Grabovski less than 1 1/2 minutes apart early in the third period of a 3-1 victory at Los Angeles on Monday.
Toronto - which will now seek its first three-game winning streak since March 18-22 - received another strong performance in net Monday from former Shark Vesa Toskala, who has allowed four goals over his last three starts.
"Vesa obviously made some huge saves," Wilson said. "He was just as sharp as he was the two previous games. And with goaltending like that, you have a really good chance to win."
While he will ultimately be judged on his team's playoff performance, first-year coach Todd McLellan has been everything the Sharks could have hoped for when he was hired on June 12.
San Jose (20-3-1) owns the league's best record and has been near perfect at home, going 12-0-1.
On Saturday, the Sharks rallied from an early two-goal deficit for their seventh straight victory, 3-2 at Phoenix.
"It's a combination of skill and we've got some grit with that skill," McLellan said. "The players are pulling in the same direction, they believe in what we set out to do in training camp, and they're getting results so their confidence is growing as we go."
San Jose has outscored opponents 35-15 during the seven-game streak, its second this season.
Nabokov has a win and a tie in two career games against Toronto. He made 23 saves in a 3-2 home victory over the Leafs on Jan. 12.
San Jose is 2-0-2 in its last four meetings with Toronto.
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