The FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, an event that occurs every four years, is now underway for the United States, and sports fans from around the world will be following the exploits of their respective nations in what is sure to be a dramatic scene in Brazil. As is the case in international hockey, there are favorites, underdogs, upsets, strange bedfellows, and tremendous competition.
From a hockey fan perspective, it’s interesting to contrast our sport’s premier event, the Stanley Cup playoffs, with what’s happening now in cities like Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. There is nothing like the World Cup every four years for soccer fans, but there is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs every year for a hockey fan.
From a San Jose Sharks perspective, of course, there are no smiles over what occurred this past spring, and it seemed appropriate that the final day was Friday, the 13th of June. On that evening, the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-1 deficit, tied the game on a power play in the third, and won the Stanley Cup in front of their fan base at the Staples Center. It was the second Stanley Cup championship for the Sharks’ arch rivals, and it capped a spring of disappointment and soul-searching for the Men in Teal.
But beyond the too-early end for the Sharks, the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs were truly a remarkable showcase of the greatest game on earth, and unlike the World Cup or the Olympics, it happens every year, not every four years. Aside from the many remarkable, albeit painful stories that led to the Kings’ championship, there were so many others.
The New York Rangers made it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, and that was quite an accomplishment for the Broadway Blueshirts, an excellent and improving team over the course of the season. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games, fell behind Pittsburgh 3 games to 1 in round 2, and roared back to take Game Seven at Burgh Hockey in a comeback that rivaled any in this post-season. Then, in a traditional Original Six matchup, they took the Montreal Canadiens in six games, setting things up for the Final against the Kings.
The Chicago Blackhawks, like the Sharks , saw their season end too soon, and as was the case with San Jose, they were defeated in Game Seven at home by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Chicago trailed its series 3 games to 1 before fighting back to force Game Seven. But as was the case for three great teams, they dropped Game Seven at home to the Kings.
One of the most interesting aspects, of course, of the Stanley Cup playoffs is how grueling it is over the span of years. Consider the path of the two Finalists. The Kings have played an NHL record 64 playoff games in the past three seasons, which gives them a grand total of 276 games played. But the Rangers, with 57 playoff contests in the last three years, are not far behind, with 269 games played. By comparison, the Sharks have played in 23 playoff contests in the last three seasons, ranking them 8th among all teams. That’s a total of 235 games overall for the Sharks in that span.
The new season officially kicks off with the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, with the first round scheduled for Friday, June 27th. The future stars of the world’s fastest game will be selected, and the Sharks will begin their long journey to training camp, looking forward with excitement. The coaches, players, and hockey staff are already doing so.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky for sjsharks.com.