SAN JOSE – There’s no need to review how the Sharks’ season ended last April.
But there’s also no avoiding it.
The momentous collapse against the Kings will hang over their heads for at least this season, and maybe longer, depending on how the next seven-to-eight months unfold. When you become only the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead, it becomes part of your identity for a little while.
As the Sharks get set to open the season against Los Angeles on Wednesday night – an evening that will begin with their adversary raising a second Stanley Cup banner in three seasons – they will have the opportunity to start to distance themselves from what was the lowest point in the franchise’s history.
“Obviously, we know what happened, and in our world, they beat us – and it was bad on our part,” Joe Pavelski said.
“There will be distractions, and we’ve got to find a way to put those aside, because as hard as it is to say it’s in the past, it is. You’ve got to move forward at some point. It’s one of those things where we want to change it badly, but we can’t. You have to accept that.”
Wednesday won’t be the last time the Sharks are reminded of what happened, as the NHL has firmly recognized that their rivalry with Los Angeles is one of the best going right now. A behind-the-scenes reality show will lead into the Sharks-Kings outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, and all five meetings between the clubs will be broadcast nationally in the United States.
Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press conference last Thursday that the Sharks and Kings meeting on opening night in front of a national audience was no accident.
McLellan would like to see his team embrace that extra attention.
“I think it’s great,” McLellan said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to participate in a rivalry that the league wants to broadcast, and that’s what we’re all about. It’s a good thing.”
Vlasic echoed his coach. When he first saw that the Sharks would open in Los Angeles, the defenseman said: “I was thrilled. … “We have an opportunity to ruin their festivities.”
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The Sharks will enter the season with the same core group, but Tuesday’s roster deadline proved that general manager Doug Wilson was not fooling around when said in May that his team would continue trending younger. A pair of rookies are expected in the lineup in defenseman Mirco Mueller and third line center Chris Tierney, and a third would have been, too, if winger Barclay Goodrow had not hurt his hand blocking a shot in the final preseason game.
While that brings an element of excitement to the team, which had a pair of success stories in Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto last season, it’s hard to envision the Sharks matching up with a Los Angeles team that is on the brink of becoming a dynasty. There are just too many question marks.
Sure, San Jose is still a formidable club with some elite talent on its roster, but the guys that will be counted on the most to get the team over its playoff hump – and have failed repeatedly – remain in teal. That includes not only deposed leaders Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but guys like Pavelski, Couture and Antti Niemi, too.
Last April’s humiliation only seemed to confirm that the Sharks are lacking that extra something to make a significant playoff run. Why should anyone believe this current version, if it remains intact, ends up being any different?
“You just have to go out and prove it,” Couture said. “There’s nothing you can sit here and say. Your actions speak louder than words and we just have to go out and prove people wrong.”
Perhaps the memory of last season’s debacle will end up being beneficial in the long run.
Vlasic said: “Some guys will use it as motivation. Some guys will use something else. But, we’re ready to prove to ourselves that we can win.”