When the San Jose Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings in just five games early in the playoffs, they became my team. I’d been let down by them too many times in the past to have picked them in my bracket, but once they eliminated LA, I began to believe. I wanted to see Joe Thornton finally get his Cup. I loved watching such a dominant team finally get some of the respect they deserved.
I was pretty OK with all of the final four in this year’s playoffs. The Penguins were my least favourite, but I had nothing against seeing Phil Kessel win the Cup, fill it with hot dogs, and then hold it just out of reach of Steve Simmons. But I’ve realized as the final has gone on that I really wanted to SJ win. And I think part of that is it’s hard not to see the parallels to one of the best teams I've had the chance to cheer on: the 2006-07 Ottawa Senators.
Sure, the Sens only required 15 games to get the finals, as opposed to the 18 the Sharks took this year, but the runs had similar feelings. Both teams were known for being good regular season teams who just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Both teams had relatively unknown goalies who didn’t dominate, but were good enough to not be the story through three rounds. Joe Thornton’s ability to carry his team forward was reminiscent of Daniel Alfredsson a decade earlier. The Sharks had to defeat their nemesis in the Kings, while the Sens had to get through the Sabres who had embarrassed them the playoffs before. Both teams dominated these teams in just five games. Also, both the ‘07 Sens and the ‘16 Sharks had finished low enough in the standings to gain underdog status entering the playoffs.
The Sens’ loss in five games in the finals was pretty heartbreaking. The team just seemed hopelessly outmatched, and had to play an incredible game just to win one in the series. The Sharks had no answers for the Pens’ depth this year. They were badly outshot in every game except one.
And we didn’t know it at the time, but the Sens’ Cup window had closed hard. The team would win one playoff round over the next nine seasons, and that sole win came after nearly everyone from 2007 was gone. I can't say for sure that the Sharks' Cup window has also closed, but this really felt like their best shot. Guys like Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto need new contracts. Thornton and Patrick Marleau will be yet another year older next year. Not to mention that the Sharks will have to get through the Kings, Blackhawks, Stars, and Blues just to get out of the West again.
I have a lot of sympathy for a franchise that's achieved about the most success you can without actually winning the Stanley Cup. It's eerily reminiscent of the Sens. I was really hoping this time would have a happy ending.