As much as everything’s the same, oh so much has changed.
If there were ever to be a tagline for the Sharks’ opening-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, this would probably be it. As much as everything appears the same – same postseason opponent, same concerns, same springtime obstacle to overcome – things are very different than when the Sharks last met the Kings in the playoffs two years ago.
New coach? Check. New captain? Check. Favored by hockey to go all the way? No check.
“You don’t really worry about what’s happened in the past,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “There’s a lot of new faces here. We have ten or so guys that are different from that (2014) team. You’d be cheating them if you let it bother you. I think we have a different identity in a lot of ways now.”
Pavelski, of course, speaks now as the Sharks captain, a title that was held by Joe Thornton at this time in 2014.
Thornton was less subtle when describing his memories of the Sharks heartbreaking opening-round defeat two springs ago, when the Kings roared back from an 0-3 deficit to take the series.
How often does he think about that series?
“Never,” said Thornton.
The hockey world, at large, has not forgotten. Haunted by the memory and busted brackets of 2014, many experts aren’t favoring the Sharks against the Kings, nor will they against any opponent San Jose draws in the playoffs. Some, who have often picked the Sharks to win it all in the past, remain lukewarm about this team; despite even the harshest critics readily acknowledge that this is one of San Jose’s deepest lineups in years.
Not to mention, a very different roster than past years.
Sharks since 2013-14 playoffs:
|Additions ||Subtractions |
|Martin Jones ||Antti Niemi |
|James Reimer ||Alex Stalock |
|Joel Ward ||Dan Boyle |
|Paul Martin ||Jason Demers |
|Joonas Donskoi ||Martin Havlat |
|Melker Karlsson ||James Sheppard |
|Roman Polak ||Matt Irwin |
|Brenden Dillon ||Tyler Kennedy |
|Chris Tierney ||Raffi Torres |
|Dainus Zubrus ||Mike Brown |
|Nick Spaling ||Brad Stuart |
| ||Scott Hannan |
These changes don’t even reflect Brent Burns’ shift from power forward to Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman, nor the arrival of Peter DeBoer’s coaching staff and departure of Todd McLellan’s.
“We’re solid,” Pavelski said in a recent interview with former teammate Jeremy Roenick and NHL analyst Billy Jaffe. “Up and down the lineup, we have confidence in a lot of players. When they’re playing good and responsible, we’re a tough team to beat. That’s the biggest thing: guys have really bought in to holding onto pucks and making smart plays and grinding teams down. That’s what we’ve done so well on the road: we don’t panic.”
No, despite a lack of expert support nor a familiar spot atop the Western Conference standings, these Sharks don’t panic. This is especially true on the road, where San Jose was a league-best 28-10-3 this season, despite traveling a league-high 50,362 miles.
The odometer will increase the moment the Sharks take the ice for Game 1 in Staples Center on Thursday, where San Jose opens the playoffs on the road for only the third time in eight years and attempts to begin reshaping this franchise’s reputation.
Teams to win the Stanley Cup to start the playoffs without home-ice advantage (since 1967)
|Team ||Season ||Regular-Season Road Record |
|Chicago ||2014-15 ||24-16-1 |
|Los Angeles ||2013-14 ||23-14-4 |
|Los Angeles ||2011-12 ||18-13-10 |
|New Jersey ||1994-95 ||8-14-2 |
|Montreal ||1992-93 ||21-17-4 |
|Pittsburgh ||1991-92 ||18-19-3 |
|Montreal ||1970-71 ||13-16-10 |
Only seven teams since the end of the Original 6 era have started the playoffs on the road and gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The Sharks, normally a postseason favorite, will attempt to become the eighth, beginning with a showdown with their nemesis that has done it twice before.
“I don’t think they needed motivation,” head coach Peter DeBoer said of his team. “We’re playing the LA Kings in the playoffs. They’ve won two Stanley Cups in the last three years. I think that’s motivation enough. This has nothing to do with previous teams or previous records against previous teams in other playoffs. This is a new a team. This group is going to write their own story based on that.”
It would also be based on being underdogs, an identity this team isn’t too familiar with, but has begun to fully embrace, especially when that story begins on Thursday night in LA.