SAN JOSE -- It was a place to end up. There were all the teams at the bottom of the league, the teams headed for the NHL Draft Lottery, for a summer of disappointment. And then there were the San Jose Sharks.
They had not performed well at SAP Center, finishing with an 18-20-3 home record, among the worst in the League. Only one other team in the bottom half of the League in that category even qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Minnesota Wild were gone after the first round.
Not so the Sharks.
That's partially because they have turned things around in San Jose. The Sharks are 5-1 at home in the playoffs, including 4-0 against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Second Round. Now, having taken home-ice advantage by winning a game on the road against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final, the Sharks return to SAP Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports) to revisit what has worked for them in their building since the start of the postseason.
"We owned that home record," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "There's no hiding from that, but I also think there's some factors that play into that. I think you have to look a little deeper than just the record."
DeBoer mentioned the Sharks had done well against good teams at home. That's true, at least lately. San Jose went 8-11-1 against playoff teams during the regular season, but they started out 2-8-0, meaning that since a loss to Minnesota on Dec. 12, the Sharks went 6-3-1 at home to finish the season before heading into their 5-1 playoff run.
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"I think a lot of it was just having that road mindset at home, and we struggled early on in the year finding that identity," defenseman Paul Martin said. "Toward the end of the year we started to play better in general at home and on the road and we were able to play more of a road game at home where we were keeping it simple and not making mistakes, or making it easy on ourselves as far as turning the puck over and being a little more sharp that way. A lot of it comes from our forecheck. I think we were able to establish that early at home and build off that."
There was also this: As DeBoer said, "Our record coming back from road trips was like 1-7-1, six games under .500. That's not to make excuses, but we're the best road team in the League and you come home, traveling the most travel in the League, there's an effect there and that's real."
The good news for the Sharks is twofold; they performed so well on the road (28-10-3) that they earned a playoff berth, and they have reversed the trend in the playoffs.
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So how has that happened?
"I think just making it a point of emphasis," defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "I think for us it's just something where there's no excuse for us to not be good at home. … There's no reason why you don't want to play well in front of your home fans. We wanted to make sure we're giving the city of San Jose, the Sharks fans, something to cheer about and be proud of."
With the series tied 1-1 heading into Game 3, the Sharks know they can move on to the Stanley Cup Final by winning their three games at home, even if they can't win another one in St. Louis. So it's nice to know they're on better footing in San Jose in the postseason than they were in the regular season. They performed better at home down the stretch, got their confidence up, and it has shown in the playoffs, even if that regular-season home record still dogs them.
"Our group's always been comfortable and confident that we can win at home," DeBoer said. "There was never any time, regardless of how much [the media] wrote about it or talked about it, that we ever felt rattled about our home record.
"I think there was a real confidence there that we could win when the chips were down, and the guys have shown that."