The next step in the development of the San Jose Sharks history will be written by its fan base, as in:
“After everything you’ve seen for all those years, especially the way you’ve seen it, are you prepared to consider the possibility that Pinocchio is finally a real boy?”
San Jose’s 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final puts them one game away from the Stanley Cup Final that they never figured to see in their, or our, lifetimes.
What is more, Sharks fans are enjoying an afterglow at exactly the same moment that Warrior fans have lost all their smug and self-ordained and are now scrappy underdogs again by virtue of (a) getting controlled if not dominated by the Oklahoma City Thunder and (b) dodging a size-15 bullet to the groin when the NBA office found a side-door escape for Draymond Green as he faced administrative stasis.
In other words, these are the happiest days in Sharks history – if they can finish the deal.
And those are the biggest words in club history.
The Sharks have finished no deals in their quarter-century, but they have never been close enough to even consider it before. This team – deeper and less vulnerable, more ornery and less flawed – is the team that can make history die, and while you think these players are immune to that notion, the fact is they have carried every brick of it.
Well, okay, some have carried more bricks than others. Paul Martin and Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi, for example, have carried almost none of them, because they only saw the Sharks as a playoff underachiever from afar. They’ve all heard the stories, though, and been asked the questions and shaded the answers, all year long.
And now, having met all but one of the challenges of an idiosyncratic Western Conference playoff route, the Sharks have only their own wobbly regular season home record and the fears of a fan base conditioned to disappointment away from finally doing the do.
But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at this. Maybe this team, finally hardened by the realization that the past is not prologue to the future, isn’t going to view the last win as an acceptable bar to clear. Maybe it’s about the final five wins.
And maybe it’s not about getting ahead of oneself but staying true to the shift-by-shift philosophy that has carried them to this point. Maybe it isn’t just about being closer than ever before, or even Finishing The Deal, but merely maintaining the focus required to clear Hurdle 12. Maybe it’s about making the history disappear entirely and declaring the moment to be supreme.
Maybe it’s about finally divorcing from the bond formed over years with the fan base and making this about themselves, in the here and now.
This runs counter to the logic of the marketing department who reigns too often supreme in too many team offices, but climbing a muddy hill means first shedding weight, and then acknowledging the value of those belongings when the hill has been conquered. Maybe it’s about putting the legacy questions in their proper place.
Maybe it’s just about Game 6, in San Jose, Wednesday night. Maybe nothing else matters until it has to matter. Maybe this is the festival of tunnel vision that couldn’t work for Todd McLellan, or Ron Wilson, or Darryl Sutter. Maybe this 6-3 win, with two empty-net goals to make a close game seem lopsided, is solely about playing again. Not in the comfort of knowing that isn’t a must-win game, but in winning it for its own sake.
And not counting it as won until it is. If it is. I mean, you can forget history all you want, but the history is yours to own and be owned by until the moment you change it.
So Game 6 is Wednesday. It is not important for the Sharks to clinch it then, to clinch it at home, to clinch it to sweep out the demons, or to clinch it for the fan base that has endured a lot of “We can” for one moment of “We did.”
Maybe it’s about clinching it just to clinch it, and then to tackle the next thing. Keeping it simple, until the simplest thing is to try to book a parade route. Maybe even one on the same day as Golden State’s.
After all, “eyes on the prize” should never forget its sense of humor. A two-car pileup with Curry and Thompson, Thornton and Pavelski, would be absurdist art, and flat-out hilarious.
And right now, the Sharks are closer to that than the Warriors. The only question is whether they can forget about it until the moment intrudes and says, “Yes, today’s that day. Bust open a cold one and own it.”
It's what Pinocchio would do.