Is this it? It feels like this is it.
San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.
The final two teams, first to four wins drinks from the Stanley Cup.
After a long season of accomplishment and disappointment, charter flights and chalk talks, this could be it. After a long 25 years of accomplishment and disappointment, of establishing a foothold for hockey in this region and an unfortunate reputation, this is really it.
It almost sounds surreal to say, but four more wins and the San Jose Sharks are Stanley Cup champions.
Four more wins and Joe Pavelski accepts the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman. Four more wins and the Stanley Cup comes to Northern California. Four more wins and God knows what Brent Burns does with that poor trophy, while it’ll be Sharks fans’ turns to tease their rivals to the south.
Four more wins for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who’ve poured their blood, sweat and far more tears than the public even knows into this franchise, to raise the Stanley Cup.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Thornton said in the moments after the Sharks’ Western Conference-clinching Game 6 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
“Obviously, it’s the first time here. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans have waited so long, 25 years. We’ve (Thornton and Marleau) waited 18 years. So it’s a great feeling.”
As Thornton finished this comment, emotional, but not too emotional in the public eye, he snuck a quick glance to his left over at Marleau, a slight smile forming. But nothing too obvious. Classic Jumbo Joe subtlety, although a little more subtle because of that thing growing from his face.
A fleeting moment between the two linchpins, the sort of silent sharing of a something that only two people who’ve known each other for a really long time can have.
And then Joe was back to be public Joe.
As he answered the next question as if he was enjoying this all but was trying to hide it, he fiddled with that thick beard of his, just below his chin, in the spot where the strains of age resemble spilled milk rolling down the front of his face.
It was there that the storyline of this Stanley Cup Final revealed itself.
For all the questions answered – and there will be more – and all the upcoming analysis. For all the talk of the Sharks’ power play and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. For everything about two young goalies who’ve found their way, of two coaches guiding their new teams to the Stanley Cup Final in their first years behind their benches.
Even for Thornton and Marleau, two legends of the game who’ve never been this close to winning it all, this team’s former captain – Joe, although it could’ve been Patty – twirling his beard summed up what this storyline-to-be-determined, these-teams-don’t-quite-hate-each-other-yet series is about.
That gray of the beard. It’s a sign of tenure, but also to the youth sacrificed in pursuit of this goal, and a reminder of what’s gone into this moment.
It’s a reminder of collapses against LA, of sweeps in Chicago. It’s a reminder of stupid stanchions in Vancouver, of Shawn Horcoff and long ago winters in the Cow Palace.
The gray. Patty has it, too.
So do many more of us, especially those who’ve grown up with this team, imitating Nolan called shots in their driveways, Boyle over Bonds, Sandis over Sprewell, Falloon over 49ers.
And even Link Gaetz.
This run belongs to this team, yes. But also to this region, and to so many fans who hopped aboard this bandwagon long before hockey was cool around here.
There is still a long way to go, sure. And the Pittsburgh Penguins are a worthy, if not mighty adversary, who’ve crushed the dreams of oh so many others on their path to the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins are sizable final obstacle. And just as quickly as this team has conquered the Kings and silenced the Blues, a difficult matchup with Pittsburgh could eventually become part of the continuum, part of the story of another time the Sharks just couldn’t win it all.
But for now, as this team boards just another charter en route for Pittsburgh, as it prepares for a moment so new that it can’t really be prepared for, it’s hard not to think of the sacrifice, from those in this dressing room and those who came before, that has gone into getting here.
This might not be it. Although it feels pretty darn close.