The San Jose Sharks have shown this season they can play as well as any team in the NHL.
They started with seven straight wins in January and had another seven-game winning streak span late March and early April. They never lost more than two games in a row in regulation.
If they can put together more of those scorching hot streaks than their moderately cold ones during the next two months, they will win their first Stanley Cup.
It would help immensely if they can get into a home-ice position during the run: San Jose went 17-2-5 at HP Pavilion.
Niemi had a 24-15 career playoff record before last season's five-game ouster.
The Sharks have won at least one playoff round in six of the past eight years, which means they have other players (and a coach) with significant postseason experience.
Todd McLellan knows he can count on Dan Boyle, Logan Couture, Jason Demers, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, all looking to change the perception of the Sharks (and them) being not-quite-good-enough. Plus, this team has the vast Stanley Cup-winning experience of Larry Robinson on its staff.
San Jose was manhandled by the Chicago Blackhawks this season (who wasn't?), losing all three games and outscored 11-5 during an 11-day cold streak in February.
But the Sharks have a 13-6-2 record against the rest of the Western field, 3-0-0 against their first-round opponent, the Vancouver Canucks.
Ideally, the Sharks will have a first-round clinching game at home, can somehow avoid the Blackhawks in the second round, then find a way to win a conference finals series for the first time.
If they are on one of their patented hot streaks this season, it certainly can be done.
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