– The San Jose Sharks
are in the Western Conference Finals for the third time in their 20-year history, and second in as many seasons.
The eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks
bounced the Pacific Division winners in four-straight last spring – it's an experience the Sharks surprisingly aren't drawing on as much as one might think.
"We'll see after the series is done," said captain Joe Thornton
. "We really can't say until it's done so hopefully we learned that we hate to lose. We want to extend this. We're having a lot of fun right now. Ask me the question after the series. Hopefully I can say we've grown."
After disposing the Detroit Red Wings
in five games last spring the Sharks, who were the top seed in the Western Conference, opened the conference finals at home to the Blackhawks, losing both games at the HP Pavilion. They never recovered.
"I felt we started well in Game 1, we let our guard down a little bit in Game 2 last year and it really cost us – we can revert back to that experience," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan
. "Other than that, this is brand new, completely different. We can't completely compare the fact that we're back again."
The Sharks got past the Los Angeles Kings
in six games in April, but saw a 3-0 lead against the Wings evaporate before finally advancing to the conference finals thanks to a 3-2, Game 7, win on Thursday.
On Saturday afternoon, after chartering from the Bay Area to Vancouver, the Sharks were pointing to a six-game losing streak between January 3 and 13 as a rallying point for this group.
The Sharks lost just six times in regulation the rest of the way.
"We've come a long way," said defenseman Dan Boyle
. "Last year, we were first pretty much the whole year. This year we had to fight, you guys all know we had the big six-game losing streak that we keep talking about. I think we all had to look in the mirror and change our game a little bit."
As much as the core group is familiar with the situation of being in the final four, the Sharks also realize it's a much different situation.
"We have two new goaltenders, we have some defensemen that never played, we have a number of guys on our fourth line that didn't get to experience it and the opponent is obviously different," McLellan said.
"We understand the intensity goes up a little bit more. We've experienced that, we've felt it. We played in a building where there were 23 and a half thousand people in Chicago . . . that environment, we've experienced it."
San Jose is hoping to overcome past failures in the Western Conference Finals to earn a berth in their first ever Stanley Cup appearance. In order to do that, they'll have to topple the Presidents' Trophy winners.