Last May, when Pete DeBoer was named the new head coach of the San Jose Sharks, he predicted a “big bounce-back” from the team that had missed the playoffs in 2014-15.
“You’ve got a lot of proud people here that aren’t too happy about where they were sitting at the end of last season,” he said. “My history with that is, if you’ve got character and you’ve been through that, you’re ready to push back. And I think we’re going to see that.”
Many were skeptical. And by January, almost halfway through the season, the Sharks still hadn’t bounced back. They were 18-18-2 after 38 games, not even good enough for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
It was then that they finally took off. Buoyed by the return of Logan Couture, they went 28-12-4 to finish the regular season, and now they’re just two wins from reaching their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.
“Our team has been, I think, under-appreciated all season,” Couture told reporters last night after Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, a 3-0 Sharks victory over the beleaguered-looking Blues.
“We found our game the second half of the year and started playing the kind of hockey that Pete was preaching when he came to training camp. It took a little while for us to get used to the system and for injuries to heal. And we’ve been great the second half and in the playoffs.”
In hindsight, perhaps the Sharks should’ve been considered stronger contenders heading into the postseason. After all, they did have a great second half, and it wasn’t like their roster lacked star power.
But then, the Ducks also looked pretty good down the stretch; and the Kings had won two Stanley Cups in the last four years; and let’s face it, it was hard to ignore San Jose’s history of playoff flops.
Now, the Sharks still have to beat the Blues twice, and that won’t be easy. But DeBoer’s prediction has already been proven correct. The Sharks have indeed bounced back, and they’ve done it in a “big” way.
“I’ve been around here where the Sharks have been that team that’s expected to go out and win the Pacific and roll through teams,” said Couture. “We faced a lot of adversity this season and last summer and I think it really helped us come together as a group.”