Having finally let up from their 2001 Seattle Mariners pace, the Sharks have crashed back down to earth. With each loss to a team fighting to make the playoffs, doubt grows stronger for all those who don the teal and orange. Before the season, we were all calling Blake "washed-up", Marleau "terrible", and Lemieux "retired".
Then the Sharks piled up wins in 22 of their first 26. Suddenly, Marleau was a star, Blake returned to form reminiscent of when he would brake a u-shape out of the glass on NHL '94 ('93-'94 still is his best season), Thornton piled up points faster than he does on his X-Box360, Setoguchi was the Setogeechoo-train. This was finally the year.
Looking back, I realize that the NHL Store did Sharks fans a favor by not making an animated photograph commercial of Joe Thornton asking "Is this the year?" or by not selling the "Is this the year?" t-shirt with the Sharks logo. Sure, the parody on youtube is brilliant, but Sharks fans have been asking the question for years. Is this the year we don't lose to our former back-up in the conference finals? Is this the year we don't blow a 2-0 lead against the Oilers because Cheechoo couldn't pull the trigger in double-OT against the Oilers and Dwayne Roloson single-handedly wins the 4-straight? Is this the year our defensemen don't turn the puck over in OT of game 4 against the Red Wings with a chance to go up 3-1? Is this the year we actually show up in the 2nd round instead of losing 3 straight to our division rival?
Sharks fans were rejoicing, throwing around lines about how nobody cared what happened the rest of the regular season as long as the team showed up for the playoffs. Well, that didn't turn out to be exactly true as the Sharks suddenly decided to stop playing come 2009. Sure the injuries piled up, but let's be honest. Our top 6 has been in tact, and this team is built around the top 6. Boyle and Blake have alternated injuries, which has hurt. But everyone refuses to use injuries as an excuse, yet we all keep it in our back pocket because we're not Red Sox fans and we want to be hopeful. The top 6 has carried this team all season, without even knowing it. Suddenly when Plihal looks like a seasoned vet on the 3rd line, the top two lines turtled faster than Claude Lemieux last decade.
Suddenly this team was going to lose to anyone they played in the first round, or second round, or best-case-scenario would get swept by the Red Wing in the conference finals. That's where we stand today. The Sharks can't seem to dominate anyone. No lead is safe, and two-in-a-row would be a hot streak.
Ask any die-hard hockey fan how many wins it takes to win the Cup, and without taking a breath, you'll hear: sixteen. No sport glorifies the number of wins it takes to win a championship more than NHL players, coaches, and fans. Every game is a dogfight. If you do manage to have a playoff game safely in hand after two periods, you can bet you'll have to pay the price physically in the third. Sixteen wins.
Surely you have to enter the playoffs on a hot streak to reel off the 16 wins necessary to win it all. Surely you can't struggle against teams that are going to make the playoffs. Surely you have to step up and dominate your competition night in and night out. The Red Wings never slumped last year, did they? We all remember the Ducks and Hurricanes on tremendous runs entering the playoffs in their respective Cup years, don't we? 16 wins?
Three champions have been crowned since the lockout changed the game. Three teams have gone through the 82-game season of the new-NHL and come out on top. How did those teams fair down the stretch? Not as well as you would think.
The Hurricanes of 2006 closed out the season with a 16-11-3 record in their last 30 games.
The Ducks of 2007 ended the year 16-8-6 in their last 30.
The Wings couldn't have been so mediocre to end the year, could they? 16-11-3.
Each of these teams managed to win only 16 of their last 30 before winning 4 rounds in the playoffs.
Maybe the Sharks are going to be ok. Maybe they can turn it on again in the playoffs and play like it's October again. Well, they're not even playing .500 hockey lately, are they?
The Sharks last 30 games: 16-9-5.