A National Hockey League team’s journey down 16W, the “highway” leading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, can end abruptly (ask the Phoenix Coyotes, who never got on the highway after losing four straight in the quarterfinals to Detroit) or last until the conference final, as it did for the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks reached the Western Conference Final for the second straight year and the third time in their 20-year history. This time, they got to five games of the final before seeing their season end. They made nine stops (wins) along the way and while the end result wasn’t what they were looking for, getting there was half the fun.
Here’s a look back at some of the memorable moments from each series:WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS VS. LOS ANGELES
(San Jose won, 4-2)
|San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, right, scores the winning goal past Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell during overtime of Game 6 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) |
This was the first time the Sharks and Kings met in postseason play. San Jose won Game 1 in overtime (3-2), but were shutout in Game 2 (4-0). Game 3 at Staples Center didn’t start out well as the Kings took a 4-0 lead after the first 21 minutes. But in the game that would become known as the “Stunner at Staples,” the Sharks became one of four teams that rallied from a four-goal deficit to win. Devin Setoguchi’s overtime goal at 3:09 gave the Sharks a 6-5 victory.
Even though the Sharks won Game 4, 6-3, there was no quit in the Kings. They came up to San Jose and won Game 5, 3-1. Then came the decisive Game 6 in Los Angeles. The Sharks were up 3-2 in the third period when Trevor Lewis scored on the power play to tie the game. The black clouds were above the Sharks when Jamie McGinn was called for a charging major and a game misconduct with less than four minutes left. However, the Kings couldn’t convert on the five-minute power play and at 2:22 of overtime, Joe Thornton
got the series-clinching goal in a 4-3 win.WESTERN CONFFERENCE SEMIFINALS VS. DETROIT
(San Jose won, 4-3)
Every game but one in this series was decided by one goal. Every game in this series had plenty of drama. In Game 1, rookie Benn Ferriero
celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring an overtime goal in a 2-1 win. In Game 2, the Sharks scored the first two goals and held on for another 2-1 win. Game 3 proved to be a bit more challenging. Detroit had a 3-2 lead when Dan Boyle
scored with almost four minutes remaining in regulation to tie the score. And at 9:21 of overtime, Setoguchi became the third player in Sharks history to record a postseason hat trick as the Sharks won, 4-3, and took a 3-0 series lead.
|San Jose Sharks center Benn Ferriero (78) gets the puck out in front of Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, right, as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, left, and San Jose Sharks center Scott Nichol, right rear, look on during the first period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Thursday, May 12, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP) |
In the bag, right? Nope. Detroit would win the next two games by 4-3 scores and captured Game 6, 3-1, to tie the series at three games each. Game 7 at HP Pavilion would be for all of the proverbial marbles. As had been the case throughout the series, another one-goal game would decide matters as San Jose won, 3-2.
For the second time in as many years, San Jose would eliminate Detroit in the conference semifinals at HP Pavilion.WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS VS. VANCOUVER
(Vancouver won, 4-1)
Like the series against the Kings, this was the first time the Sharks faced the Canucks in the postseason. Vancouver won Game 1, 3-2, but the victory wasn’t easy. The Sharks were up 2-1 in the third when Kevin Bieksa (remember that name) tied the score at 7:02 and less than two minutes later, Henrik Sedin scored the winner. Game 2 saw the teams being whistled for 94 penalty minutes in the Canucks 7-3 win. The score was tied at 2-2 when Vancouver scored five straight goals in 24 minutes.
The series came to San Jose for Game 3. The Sharks got two power play goals from Patrick Marleau
and Ryane Clowe
in the game’s first eight-plus minutes. They had a 4-1 lead and the Canucks got two power play goals to make it a 4-3 final score.
Game 4 would be the first of two straight bizarre contests. Vancouver would be whistled for the game’s first four penalties, yet the Sharks couldn’t convert. In the second period, the Sharks picked up four minors in almost three minutes. The result was three consecutive 5-on-3 power play goals (two by Sami Salo). No playoff team had ever been that successful with a two-man advantage. Vancouver won, 4-2.
|San Jose Sharks' Devin Setoguchi scores a goal against the Vancouver Canucks during third period of Game 5 of NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals Tuesday, May 24, 2011, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward) |
Game 5 will probably go down as having the strangest ending ever, at least in Sharks playoff history. Alex Burrows scored at 8:02 of the first period by taking a pass in the slot from Henrik Sedin to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. After Dan Boyle
tied the score on the power play at 9:57 of the second period, the Sharks took a 2-1 lead within the first 24 seconds of the third period. Joe Pavelski
pushed the puck past Henrik Sedin at the Canucks blue line and got a pass to Setoguchi, who was trailing the play, in the right slot. Setoguchi beat Roberto Luongo, who came out of his crease to poke check the puck away, and put the puck into the empty net to give San Jose a 2-1 lead.
The Canucks saved the dramatics for the end of the game. With just 14 seconds left in regulation, Henrik Sedin fired a wrister from the right point. Ryan Kesler just happened to be in front of the net to tap the puck past Antti Niemi
to tie the score.
Neither team would score in the first overtime. Then came a series of events only a Hollywood screen writer could create. At 10:18 of the second overtime, Burrows got a loose puck in the right corner of the Sharks end and passed it out to Alexander Edler along the right wing boards near the blue line. Edler then shot the puck along the glass.
However, the puck would go off a metal frame for the glass and trickle to the blue line near the right point. Bieksa, who was playing on the left point, skated towards the puck and got it just inside the line. While everyone (including most of the television cameras) were looking at the right corner for the puck, Bieksa put the puck on his stick and swatted a dribbler towards the net. The puck went through a small hole between Niemi’s pad and the right goal post to give Vancouver a series-ending 3-2 win.
While Game 5 will be remembered for Vancouver’s pinball wizardry, the game will also be remembered for the courageous play of Thornton. The Sharks captain had separated his left shoulder via a hit by Raffi Torres in Game 4. Despite that pain, he played more than 32 minutes (32:15), led everyone with seven shots and won 10 of his 18 faceoffs. In a year that saw Thornton’s offensive numbers go down from previous seasons (for example, his team-leading 49 assists were his fewest in a decade) and while he led the NHL in the regular season with 114 takeaways, his Game 5 performance will silence those who’ve criticized his will to win.PLAYOFF LEADERS
GOALS: Logan Couture
, Patrick Marleau
and Devin Setoguchi (seven)
ASSISTS: Joe Thornton
POINTS: Thornton (17)
PLUS/MINUS: Kyle Wellwood (plus-6)
PIM: Ben Eager (41)
POWER PLAY GOALS: Ryane Clowe
, Setoguchi and Marleau (three)GOALTENDERS
WINS: Antti Niemi
GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE: Niemi (3.22)
SAVE PERCENTAGE: Niemi (.896)