There are four key factors that all need to be working in near perfect harmony for a team to win the Stanley Cup.
First and foremost, the team needs to have talent. A lot of talent. Nobody is going to make the playoffs and then successfully get through four best-of-seven series against other playoff teams without impact players at the top of the lineup and plenty of depth to go around them.
Going hand in hand with that is the fact that talent needs to be playing well at the right time of year. It needs to be “the hot team” come playoff time. Even the very best teams are prone to a four-or-five game stretch in a season where things simply do not click for them. If you hit one of those slumps in April or May a strong regular season is going to quickly be forgotten (just ask Tampa Bay, Washington, or Pittsburgh this year).
But those two factors can only take a team so far.
It also needs to be healthy and have its key players in the lineup. There are very few teams that get through an entire postseason while dealing with a significant injury to a core player the entire time. It’s not necessarily just the best team that is still standing at the end of the playoffs, but rather a very good team that is also extremely healthy.
Then there is the fourth factor, which is often times the most difficult to come by and the one that is most out of a team’s control.
Plain old fashioned dumb luck.
Some stupid, unpredictable, random moment that is completely out of your control that just so happens to go your way when you need it most.
Luck can be a nasty four-letter word to mention to sports fans when you are referring to their team because it creates the sense you are invalidating their team’s success.
“Luck? My team wasn’t lucky, you coward… it was GREAT!”
Or something along those lines.
Here is the reality: Your championship team may very well have been great, it certainly deserved to win, but it was also undoubtedly lucky at some point during its championship run. It is not a slight. It is not an insult. It is simply a big part of what sports is, especially hockey where you have 10 people chasing a frozen piece of rubber around a sheet of ice at lightning quick speeds. Sometimes weird stuff happens.
Pick any random championship team and look at its postseason and you will probably find something, somewhere along the way, that flipped a game or a series in its favor that wasn’t necessarily due to the result of its play or talent level.
The thing about “luck” in this context is that it can literally be anything. It can be a fortunate bounce off the glass or boards that sets up a tap-in goal. It can be injury luck (either your team being healthy or your opponent being hurt by an injury). It can be a call that goes a certain team’s way, or a replay review, or something that is entirely out of its control. It can be a random player catching fire at the right time and shooting the lights out for a few weeks, scoring
This all brings us to the 2019 San Jose Sharks who are the most dangerous type of Stanley Cup playoff team. They have great talent and they have a lot of it. Now that Joe Pavelski is back in the lineup after a six-game absence in Round 2 they are mostly healthy. And, yes, they have been incredibly lucky to this point.
“Incredibly lucky” may even be underselling it because they have had a key break go their way in every series they have played against every opponent.
In Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights it was the controversial (or, let’s just call it what it was — wrong) call on Cody Eakin that gave them a five-minute power play late in the third period of Game 7 while trailing by three goals. Yes, the Sharks still needed to score three power play goals — something that was far from a given and still statistically unlikely to happen at the beginning of the power play — and yes Vegas still needed to self-destruct, but the reality is that break kept a door open that should have shut, locked and completely secured. That is an element of luck.
In Game 7 of Round 2 against the Colorado Avalanche it was the replay review that negated what would have been a game-tying goal because Gabriel Landeskog took too much time getting off the ice during a line change and was maybe offside. There is a good chance that call was correct, but the fact is that goal wasn’t taken off the board because of anything San Jose did defensively. It was taken off the board because of what was ultimately a meaningless action by a player that had nothing to do with the play itself. That, too, is luck.
Then on Wednesday night in St. Louis they were able to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final thanks to an Erik Karlsson overtime goal that was clearly set up by a hand pass that should have negated it and was ultimately not reviewable by the current NHL rule book. You don’t need me to tell you what that should be considered.
If you are not a Sharks fan you can (and should) hate some of those results, and they will no doubt eventually lead to significant changes to the game in future seasons (or at least the possibility of significant changes).
If you are a Sharks fan you shouldn’t run from the fact there is a strong element of luck at play here. And you shouldn’t care because, again, this is sports.
This is also a new development for the Sharks and it’s an important one in their quest for their first-even championship, especially since it almost seems as if two decades worth of bad postseason luck is all being undone in two months. The Sharks have had a lot of outstanding teams over the years, including top-seeded teams, a Presidents’ Trophy team, and teams that should have been very real threats to win the Stanley Cup only to be undone by something come playoff time. Sometimes it was a goaltending meltdown (pretty much any Evgeni Nabokov series), an injury at the wrong time (Marc-Edouard Vlasic in 2014), or just simply not catching a significant break of their own or getting their best players to all click at the same time.
Right now, everything, including the luck element, is going in their favor.
Whether all of it is enough to continue carrying them through to the Stanley Cup Final and give them their first championship is still to be determined, but there is no denying it is a key part of their story so far and a big part of why they are still playing and are just two wins away from advancing again.