Round 1 can be summed up this simply for San Jose: The Sharks generally got better as the series progressed, while the Ducks further unraveled with each outing.
The biggest exception to that was Game 4, where in spurts, you could see Anaheim start to play the style they should have presented all along. Skating the puck into the offensive zone instead dumping, getting possession established behind San Jose’s cage to set up scoring opportunities in front of Martin Jones, and most importantly - showing defensive discipline and taking far less penalties.
But as the saying goes, “too little, too late." San Jose answered with a clutch coach’s challenge, and series clinching goal from Tomas Hertl.
In true Las Vegas fashion, I’m doubling down on my motto entering the playoffs: Expect the unexpected.
1) Martin Jones stopped 128 of the 132 Ducks shots he faced.
I could conclude my observations right here. When you allow just four goals in four games, you’re probably getting three wins at the minimum. However with the Sharks offense pouring in 16 goals over 12 periods, there was plenty of “run support” for Jones. I’ll take it a step further and remind you that two of the four Ducks scores came on the power play, and I generally let the goalie off the hook for those. Hard to pick an MVP with such wide-ranging contributions in this first round, but nobody would deny it going to Martin.
2) San Jose’s 4th line was the x-factor in the series, and Marcus Sorensen was a standout.
The smallest player on the Sharks ended the round on a three-game goal streak. Whether it was his early equalizer in Game 2, his momentum gaining breakaway finisher in Game 3, or his tone-setting conversion in Game 4 — Sorensen scored some incredibly timely tallies for the club. And it wasn’t just him, there were important contributions from Eric Fehr and Melker Karlsson over the course of the series, too. Pete DeBoer has found incredible chemistry with his forward lines into the first few playoff games, top to bottom. And this established depth is something we remember being very critical to that Cup Final run of two seasons ago.
3) The Sharks coaching staff should be credited with a goal in Game 4.
It was a rough second period for the Sharks. They got out-shot 14-7, and took three minor penalties. The last one came with a minute left, meaning that Anaheim would get about 60 seconds of advantage to end the period, then another 60 seconds with fresh legs and fresh ice to begin the 3rd period. With time ticking down before 2nd intermission, Ryan Getzlaf buried a puck about one second after the clock had expired. No goal. Then at :27 seconds into the 3rd period, Rickard Rakell blasted one past Jones, except - Pete DeBoer challenged Anaheim’s entry into the zone, which turned out to be offside. No goal again. My math tells me preventing a goal is equally important to scoring one. So in a 2-1 final score, the Sharks bench and coaching staff should be credited for catching what they saw. And making the bold move (risking a minor penalty) to issue the challenge.
4) Pacing for the playoff marathon, not a sprint.
The best thing about San Jose sweeping is not even handing four straight losses to a SoCal rival. Although wow, nobody is complaining about the bragging rights it brings. It’s actually the efficiency of exerting yourself as few times as possible while advancing to the next round. One thing we learned in the run of 2016, was the physical and mental toll an extra 24 games brough. If it took San Jose 6 to eliminate Anaheim, that’s 6 more periods of risk, wear, and tear. When you put yourself in position to end rounds quickly, you MUST capitalize. Playing into mid-June becomes a battle against physical attrition. Might as well play your cards well early.
5) Who is the underdog between San Jose and Las Vegas in Round 2?
Here’s a fancy fact: This will be (only) the eighth time that two teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs while each sweeping their prior opponent to advance. On the Sharks side, it’s a group that has generally been together for years of playoff runs. They have tons of experiences, both wining and losing as a group. A total of 89 playoff games since 2010 alone. With Las Vegas, you have many individuals with postseason experiences, but, certainly nowhere near the same level of experience (four games) together under the Golden Knights banner. Naturally, you’d have to expect the pundits to favor the Golden Knights. They won the division. They are a storybook team. Who are the Sharks to interfere with inaugural-season-destiny? Pete DeBoer said he knew they “weren’t a mirage” after playing them head-to-head the day after Thanksgiving. But if you’re the Sharks, gladly give the title of “favorites” to Las Vegas, and all the pressure it comes with.