When you put some of the San Jose Sharks’ playoff disappointments in context, it makes them a little easier to understand. As Tim Panaccio pointed out, the Sharks lost to the eventual Western Conference champion in five of their last seven postseason exits.
There’s no doubt that it is embarrassing to get swept, but the Sharks suffered that fate thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup champions in 2010. Sure, they lost a first round series when they were the first seed and the Anaheim Ducks were the eighth seed in 2009, but let’s not forget that the Ducks still had many of the pieces of a Stanley Cup championship team. (Not to mention Jonas Hiller’s sterling play in his breakout playoffs.) Really, the strongest argument for “choking” might have been the Sharks losing to the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 after building a 2-0 series lead. Even in that case, they lost to a team that fell one win short of winning a Cup during that year.
Yes, the Sharks have had some disappointments, but they seem to be the victim of other people’s expectations and tough playoff matchups more than anything else. Critics dismiss the jarring difficulty of getting through the Western Conference playoffs too easily. After all, only the Detroit Red Wings and Ducks made two or more Stanley Cup finals appearances since 2000.
With these factors in mind, it’s understandable that players and coaches might get a bit annoyed by the stream of questions about “demons” and “curses.” As usual, head coach Todd McLellan had something interesting to say about all the demon talk.
“You guys think we have demons,” McLellan responded. “They don’t exist in our world. We’ve had a lot of success as an organization and as a franchise. We can keep referring back to the Conference Finals in 2004, say that we had an eight-game losing streak. I think some of you wrote that. I don’t know what the hell 2004 has to do with 2011.
“I don’t think we have demons. We have a team that’s worked extremely hard to get to the Conference Finals. We’ve had a team that’s faced a lot of adversity, external adversity.
“The only people we answer to are ourselves in that locker room. We don’t answer to the media. We answer to our fans somewhat here at home. We owe them an effort. We owe them a commitment level second to none. But that’s it.”
Deep down, the Sharks’ biggest demons are the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks must find a way to beat the best team from the 2010-11 season three times in a row or they’ll open themselves up to another round of the same line of questions next year. Regardless of how well Joe Thornton and other often-criticized members of the team play, they probably won’t hear the end of those jabs unless they win a Stanley Cup.
That would be a devil of a challenge this time around.