While watching the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs, San Jose Sharks fans had to experience a severe case of mixed feelings. After all, a disappointing loss in the Western Conference Semi-Final round to the Edmonton Oilers, coupled with the rise of Craig MacTavish’s charges to the penultimate moment in hockey, had to bring forth a frequent sentiment described as, “that could have (and should have) been the Sharks this year.”
I know that there are a few Anaheim Ducks supporters who beg to disagree, but Sharks fans still believe it: had their favorite team dispatched the Oilers in six or seven games, they would have brushed aside their Southern California neighbors with a modicum of trouble and advanced to the Final against Carolina.
The fact that the Hurricanes were the Eastern Conference champs makes the hurt feel a bit stronger. You may recall that on December 10, 2005, the Sharks defeated the Hurricanes, 4-3, in their only regular season meeting. It was a battle between two good teams, and from my perspective at least, between the Sharks and one of their toughest regular season opponents.
Remember how Doug Murray drove Rod Brind’Amour absolutely crazy in the first period with his hard-hitting brand of hockey? Brind’Amour, a disciplined veteran, went cuckoo enough to skate across the ice and interfere with Murray, prompting a penalty against him at 12:28 of the first period. In a frustrating bit that would be repeated later, the Sharks didn’t score on that particular power play, but they used that moment as a bridge to their eventual victory.
It really must have been difficult for Sharks fans to pick a “favorite,” a team to “root” for (note that I am putting quotation marks around those words) in the Final series this year. As noted earlier, the feelings were and are decidedly mixed.
You could root for Carolina, because you hated the fact that the Oilers won over the Sharks in the playoffs and didn’t want them to get a Cup at the expense of the men in Teal. You could say that developing hockey in North Carolina, which this Canes victory decidedly did, would be great for the game. You could say that the Hurricanes play a solid brand of hockey, and have former Sharks fan favorite Ray Whitney on the roster. You could say that the Cup win would be great for the Hurricanes organization, which made the move from Hartford and have captured hockey’s ultimate prize.
However, you could also root for Edmonton, because of the fact that the best Stanley Cup series of all, leading up to the Final, was the one between the Sharks and the Oilers. You could say that the disappointment of playoff defeat in Round Two could be mollified somewhat by the fact that the winning team won it all, making it almost like losing the Final itself. You could say that an Oilers victory would be a victory for Canada, and small markets in general. You could say that it would be the continuation of a great hockey tradition.
Flip a coin, but whichever way you “rooted,” there you were, glued to the TV, the radio, or the computer, depending on your esoteric location. You were captivated by the exciting drama, individual matchups, and sheer entertainment that exploded into your imagination.
In the end, one of the most important moments had something to do with the luck of the draw. Everyone knew that Dwayne Roloson was the number one goaltender for the Oilers, but coach Craig MacTavish, wishing to keep his other two goaltenders into and part of the action, had been alternating his backups, Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen, in each playoff game.
It just so happened that it was Conklin’s turn to be the backup on the night of Game One. I wonder: what would have happened if it was Jussi Markkanen’s turn? Would it have mattered at all, or was it simply Justin Williams’ destiny to score that game winning goal with 1:01 left? Or, would Conklin have led the Oilers back to Game Seven the same way that Markkanen did?
Either way, it was great hockey, and a great Final, and a great advertisement for the “new NHL.” I can’t help but think that it is also a portent of greater things to come for the San Jose Sharks, a team that is sees its challenge for the Stanley Cup in the present, rather than in the distant future.
AWARDS SHOW NOTES
It was great to get the Awards Show and Draft Coverage from Vancouver, and it was also quite the sight to see all of the Sharks influences on the NHL. From the many camera shots of Greg Jamison, Doug Wilson, Ron Wilson, and the players, there was a Teal flavor to the entire proceeding.
I couldn’t help but feel that justice had prevailed when Joe Thornton
captured the Hart Trophy as “the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team,” and Jaromir Jagr walked off with the Lester Pearson Trophy, selected by the players as the year’s “best player.” Jagr did have a great season in New York, and so the split in awards was appropriate, but no one was more valuable to his team than Joe Thornton
I also noted that the race for the Jack Adams Award was the closest ever, with Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff edging Peter Laviolette by a single point in the voting, conducted by the League’s broadcasters. It was ironic to note that Islanders coach Ted Nolan, a former Sabres Jack Adams winner, was one of the presenters, and humorous to note that Ruff was willing to trade his award even up for the award that Laviolette received just a week earlier.
It was also great to see both Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo on the stage together, accepting the Art Ross and Maurice Richard Trophies earned during the regular season. What an honor for two well deserving young men.
It was also great to see Patrick Marleau
deserve recognition for the great year that he had. Even though he did not win the Lady Byng Trophy, the Sharks captain should probably get used to being an honored guest at the NHL Awards Show, because he’s going to get a League award one of these years.
Yes, the last two weeks have been exciting, filled with mixed feelings, but overall, showing that great things are ahead. I can’t wait for training camp, can you?
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, in Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease.”