The San Jose Sharks have been a notoriously cruel tease, and that has been true even before they gakked up that 3-0 lead to Los Angeles in 2014.
But the Stanley Cup Playoffs have always been a stay-in-the-moment kind of thing, a yesterday’s-result-is-unconnected-to-tomorrow’s phenomenon going back decades.
In other words, their 2-0 lead on the Anaheim Ducks heading back to San Jose for Games 3 and 4 of their first-round series isn’t yet a thing, because the NHL is, well, the NHL.
That said, being up 2-0 in the first round and going back home has an 82 percent chance of said team winning the series, so it is still much preferable to the rise-from-the-slab bogey men that occasionally crop up in these scenarios.
Besides, San Jose has been better in both games because San Jose has been truer to its core values than Anaheim. More blocked shots, better discipline, and an urgency to protect goaltender Martin Jones so that the discrepancies between him and Anaheim’s John Gibson are minimized – they have all added up to put the Sharks in a firmly dominant position, one which frankly most observers hadn’t expected.
So far, home teams are 12-4 through the first two sets of games, and the Sharks have two of those four. They have been faster and more skilled, and even playing at a faster pace than the Ducks are used to allowing. As a result, Evander Kane made his mark in Game 1 and the rest of the team had better luck finding the seams in the Anaheim defense in Game 2. Defensively, they have properly neutralized Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell and left Corey Perry to headhunt, as he did with Melker Karlsson late in Game 2. Plus, they have blocked nearly 30 percent of Anaheim’s shot attempts and given Jones clear looks at most of what has leaked through.
All this means is that once again we have fallen victim to recency bias. The Ducks played better down the stretch than the Sharks, even stealing a home ice advantage the Sharks should have had nailed down with a week to go. Gibson has been left to do too much and as a result has not been able to do enough, and the Sharks have been winning all the time and space battles in front of him.
Instead, the Sharks are in an even better situation now than if they had gone up 2-0 and then had to head to Anaheim, and can, if they wish to tempt fate, start prepping for the Vegas Wonder Children – which would be tempting fate twice.
You see, the NHL has a funny way of treating those who have tabulated the hen prematurely, and the biggest threat to San Jose is its own complacency, which has historically been more of a problem than seems reasonable. But having established that they are better than Anaheim in its current state, the Sharks ought to be able to finish the work – maybe in six games, because four would be, again, tempting a fate that has never been terribly kind to San Jose.
So there’s that. The Sharks have been among the postseason’s most impressive teams so far (behind Boston, to be sure, and Winnipeg and Nashville as well), but finishing is what their history says is their failing, so they have to kick history in the ass a bit.
They seem in just the mood to do it.