Their bags were packed. It was supposed to be the Battle of California. Another Battle of California.
It was supposed to be another grudge match, with in-state rivals waging war for Pacific Division supremacy. It was supposed to be brutal. It was supposed to be fun.
It was supposed to be the Kings and Ducks, until the Sharks sent the Kings golfing. Then it was supposed to be the Sharks and Ducks, who were supposed to be an underdog San Jose team’s second “toughest test yet.”
It was supposed to happen. Everybody thought it was going to happen.
And then the Nashville Predators came along.
“Nashville’s another quality team,” Brenden Dillon said. “They made the playoffs for a reason. Their back end has been what’s kind of driven their team. (Shea) Weber, (Roman) Josi, (Mattias) Ekholm, (Ryan) Ellis. I think they have to be one of the highest scoring D cores in the league. And obviously a guy that can steal a series in Pekka Rinne.”
“Stole” might be a little strong. But when the Predators completed a stunning rally from a 3-2 series deficit to even more stunningly eliminate the Stanley Cup favorite Ducks in Game 7 on Anaheim ice, everything changed.
The travel bags were unpacked, the Battle of California II canceled, the Sharks were no longer underdogs.
“For us, our game plan, it really doesn’t matter,” Martin Jones said. “It doesn’t really change. They’ve got a real strong group of forwards up front. We’ve got a big job ahead of us. You’ve got to beat good teams, no matter what path you take.”
The Sharks path after their gratifying victory over the Kings wasn’t supposed to include the Nashville Predators. But in a season where the script has had more twists than an Agatha Christie novel, San Jose will face Nashville, which even with geography begging it not to be this way, is the Sharks final obstacle in becoming the Pacific Division’s representative in the Western Conference Final.
Having to overcome Nashville to win the “Pacific”? It might not make sense in any other year, except this year.
This was the year where the Sharks had a center who was supposed to be too old contend for a Hart Trophy, a defenseman who some said couldn’t defend in the conversation for the Norris. This was the year that the Sharks core, which it had been whispered was too soft, too weak, too fragile, emphatically silenced its doubters and rivals in five glorious games.
So while it doesn’t seem to make sense, perhaps it’s appropriate that it will be the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in the second round.
After all, in this franchise’s history, where bad is often good, good too often bad, seasons supposed to go nowhere extending into late spring, first place finishes ending in heartbreak, it seldom has gone how it’s supposed to have gone.
Jamie Baker was not supposed to score in Game 7 to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings juggernaut in 1994. But it happened.
The Sharks, coming off a 111-point season, were not supposed to blow a 3-0 lead to the Kings. But, you know…
For every league-leading season that died in Jonas Hiller’s glove, there’s a Ray Whitney redirecting fate through Trevor Kidd’s legs. For every bounce off a stanchion that wasn’t supposed to end up on Kevin Bieksa’s stick, Sharks fans can picture Owen Nolan winding up from center ice in their dreams.
It’s the strange history of the San Jose Sharks, the only team to ever lose a first-round series as the No. 1 seed and have won a first-round series over a No. 1 seed, a trick they actually turned twice. This franchise has almost as many playoff upsets, seven, as it has won playoff series with home-ice advantage (8).
“This group is going to write their own story,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said on the eve of the playoffs. “This has nothing to do with previous teams or previous records against previous teams in other playoffs. This is a new team, and this group is going to write their own story based on that.”
A new team, yes, but based in an old tradition of unpredictability.
And in that tradition, the next chapter pits the Sharks against the Predators, two teams that weren’t supposed to be here, but steamrolled down the stretch of the regular season and upset heavy favorites in the first round, who still refuse to let anyone call them a favorite.
You could guess how this is supposed to play out, but why bother. Nothing seems to go how it’s supposed to go anyway.