The San Jose Sharks have never been to the Stanley Cup Final, but NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick believes their time is finally coming.
After winning 46 games and finishing third in the Pacific Division, the Sharks have hit a new level in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They head into Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues at SAP Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports) with the best-of-7 series tied 1-1 after a 4-0 win in Game 2 on Tuesday. Forward Logan Couture (19 points) and defenseman Brent Burns (18) lead the NHL in playoff scoring, and the Sharks lead the League with 15 power-play goals.
"I think it's the best Sharks team I have seen ever, to tell you the truth," Roenick said Thursday while promoting the 27th American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe on July 20-22. "And I know they've had some really good teams in the past, but I don't think that they've had a Sharks team as deep as what you're seeing now and as well-coached as they are being coached right now."
The Sharks have excelled in previous seasons, including Roenick's final NHL season in 2008-09 when they won 53 games and the Presidents' Trophy before they were eliminated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in six games. San Jose's 51-win season in 2013-14 ended when it blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The next season, the Sharks failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03 and mutually agreed to part ways with coach Todd McLellan.
Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Burns finishes Pavelski's feed for PPG
Enter Peter DeBoer, the Sharks first-year coach who led the New Jersey Devils to the Cup Final in 2012 and has made a major impact on San Jose's young players in particular.
"I've seen these guys jell together as a group of 20 so well this year under a new coach," Roenick said. "I think in talking with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski like I have, I think a lot of it is coaching and what Pete DeBoer has brought to that team. What he's done for the younger players, and this is what this team has needed, they needed the younger players to step up and have a bigger role so they have more secondary scoring and more depth.
"The way that [Tomas] Hertl has been playing, the way that [Tommy] Wingels has been playing, especially the last game, you can keep going. They're playing with confidence and a lot of that is from their coach. There's no question the coach has a lot to do with what's going on there."
Roenick will be joined at the golf tournament by a plethora of sports and entertainment personalities including Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, NBC studio host Kathryn Tappen and 1980 Lake Placid Olympics hero Mike Eruzione. The consensus among the foursome is the Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins are the likely representatives in the 2016 Cup Final.
"I think the Sharks look the best out of anybody in the playoffs," Roenick said. "I think Pittsburgh is very close. It would not surprise me being a San Jose-Pittsburgh Final, but I think all four teams that are left in the playoffs have just totally impressed me. If you give me the odds-on, I'm going with San Jose if they continue the way they played in Game 2."
Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Wingels buries wrist shot past Elliott
Pittsburgh leads the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 and is 9-4 in the playoffs after a 33-16-5 finish to the regular season under coach Mike Sullivan. The Penguins also eliminated Oshie and the Capitals in six games in the second round.
"I think the biggest difference was it seemed like in the second round that they really came in waves with four lines," Oshie said. "When you play against a team that has four lines going it seems like you're almost always playing catch up and almost always trying to gain back momentum. It's hard to do when they're playing well against you.
"There's a lot of good teams left so it's hard for me to be confident that they'll win the Stanley Cup. But if they played the way they did against us, if they continue to get good goaltending and rolling four lines, I think they have a good shot at it."