The San Jose Sharks don’t typically have series go this easily or cleanly, so the benefit of sweeping the Anaheim Ducks with Thursday’s 2-1 win is not immediately evident to the outside world.
After all, they’re probably still trying to figure out where all the expected grind of this series went. This series was supposed to be a difficult and extended slog, and instead it was by far the least difficult series of the eight this year, and the second least difficult in club history. And Thursday’s game was the most competitive but least interesting of the four.
But now that they are the designated Other Team against the Vegas Golden Knights, they will have a week to consider the difficulties both emotionally and physically of not only playing the concept but also the reality of Vegas.
Emotionally, because the Knights will be America’s darlings.
“I haven’t dove into them enough,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, fibbing at least a bit. “We’ll be heavy, heavy underdogs, and I hope you guys will write that.”
And physically, because the Knights and Sharks are far more similar than one would think at first glance. They are both devoted four-line teams (San Jose got five of their 16 goals from their fourth line in this series, a departure from their historical over-reliance on two lines and hope-for-the-best), they use speed as a prime instrument (although San Jose’s approach could change some if Joe Thornton returns), their defense corps are deep without being spectacular, and their goaltenders (Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury) are equally responsive in times of high stress situations.
Plus, they are coming into this series, that will start no sooner than next Wednesday, coming off easier-than-expected series wins against slower and older teams (the Knights swept Los Angeles in similar fashion, though each game ended with a one-goal margin) that failed in their attempts to use brawn and chippiness to derail faster and more disciplined ones. The adjustments from the series just ended to the one about to start will be considerable.
In short, this series will show which team is better at doing the very same things the very same way as their opponents. There will be no clash of styles, no generational tactical differences, no brain-vs.-brawn matchups. It could well be called Sharks-v.-Sharks, or Knights-v.-Knights.
Except that Vegas is just the exciting new thing on the menu, trying to do one more thing no other team has ever done before, while San Jose will be attacking this problem again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
If you can quantify that difference, then you’re better at this than most.