As far as Game 7s go, it's hard to imagine one having more intrigue than the one in San Jose on Wednesday night. It has the potential to be a complete bloodbath that will forever define these groups of players and organizations.
On one side, the Los Angeles Kings are chasing history, trying to become just the fourth NHL team ever to successfully erase a 3-0 series deficit and advance, joining only the 1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders and 2010 Flyers.
On the other side, the San Jose Sharks are desperately trying to change their history and avoid adding another chapter to their big book of playoff disappointments. And oh my would this one be the big one. This one would hurt. This would be the mother of all postseason failures and would become the signature postseason collapse for a team that is synonymous with postseason collapses.
Sometimes, though, those playoff shortcomings, that stupid narrative that the Sharks are trying to demolish on Wednesday night, are greatly exaggerated.
They have, after all, been to the Western Conference Final two times since 2010 and three times since 2004. They completely demolished the Vancouver Canucks in the first round last year before losing a one-goal Game 7 to these same Kings in the second round. But until they actually break through and win the Stanley Cup, or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final, those things, that stupid narrative, are never going to go away.
It's the nature of the beast that is professional sports.
At times over the past decade, they've fallen victim to the very thing George McPhee talked about on Tuesday regarding his former team, the Washington Capitals: The playoffs sometimes come down to randomness and chance.
"I don't think there was one thing that stopped us from winning that Cup in those five years other than the randomness of the game," McPhee said during an interview on Hockey Central at Noon. "Look at Boston. The year they won the Cup, Montreal tied it late in Game 7 and then missed an open net. Then [Boston] won and won the Cup. The Bruins got those breaks and we didn't. We were a really good team, but it's a heck of a league."
It's not that winning a championship only comes down to being lucky and which team gets the breaks, but that you can't really win it without getting some breaks to go your way. It takes a lot to win in the playoffs. You need talent. You need coaching. You need your goaltender to not implode on himself and single-handedly give games away. And you certainly need some things that are out of your control to go your way, whether it be your key players staying healthy or the puck bouncing your way in an elimination game. Every Cup winner has them go their way at one time or another.
And my goodness, if you're the Sharks, isn't it time something went your way in one of these games? Just once?
The Sharks, as an organization, have done everything right.
They've assembled a powerhouse team that is loaded with top-end talent and might be the best group they've ever put on the ice. They've stuck with a smart, successful coach longer than most teams would have after a couple of "early" playoff exits. They've recognized that sometimes the process is just as important as the end result (in this case: winning a championship).
In a league where the first instinct from the outside masses after a disappointing playoff exit or season is to always break up the band and and make significant changes -- how many times over the past few years have you heard that Washington needs to trade Alex Ovechkin? Or that Pittsburgh needs to trade Evgeni Malkin? Or that Chicago needed to trade Patrick Kane for Ryan Miller? -- they've stuck with their core players and stayed the course.
Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson
Thornton, one of the best players of his generation and one of the best playmakers ever in the NHL, is still dogged by one poor playoff series 10 years ago that forever tarnished his reputation as a playoff performer, despite the fact that he has 84 points in 96 playoff games since then.
Marleau, once referred to as "gutless" by former teammate Jeremy Roenick for one of his playoff performances, has scored more playoff goals (60) than any other player in the NHL since he entered the league back in 1997 and actually has seen his goal-scoring rates increase in the postseason, something that almost never gets mentioned come playoff time.
No Goals? No problem
No Goals? No problem
This one game, fair or not, will go a long way toward defining their careers -- at least until the next big game comes along.
Let's face it, the Kings have nothing to lose.
Most of the players on the roster already have their ring and are considered winners. They were already counted out when they lost three straight games to start the series, and the fact that they're still here is an instance of playing with house money.
If they win, they're still winners doing the types of things that winners do. If they lose? Well, they went out like winners and went down swinging.
But the Sharks? Man, if there was ever a team that had everything to lose, this is it.
If they win, there is still going to be that feeling of "OK, but can you do it in the next round? And the one after that?"
And if they lose? They're simply doing what most of the hockey world expects them to do.
Should be a fun night.