The Sharks' former captain and coach walked into an arena in Edmonton, Alberta on a Sunday in September on opposite sides of the Western Conference final.
That's not just the setup to a bad punchline, but the reality for Joe Pavelski and Peter DeBoer. The Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars will face off in Game 1 of the West final on Sunday, and a lot has changed since the pair were on this stage last May.
That's an understatement.
The Sharks let Pavelski walk in free agency, and he signed with the Dallas Stars last summer. San Jose fired DeBoer in December, and the rival Vegas Golden Knights hired him in January. The NHL suspended its season in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, resuming in August with seeding, play-in and playoff games split between Edmonton's Rogers Place and Toronto's Scotiabank Arena.
The individual circumstances are strange enough. The totality of them is flat-out bizarre.
"It'll be a little different," Pavelski said Sunday (h/t San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng).
That's also an understatement.
"We played them once in the round-robin here, that eases it a little bit," Pavelski continued. "But obviously the stakes are a little higher right now. They got a good team. But it’s not about any of that right now. The focus goes right back in our locker room and doing what we need to do to put out a good game and try to establish our game earlier in the series.”
Pavelski started slowly with the Stars, scoring just 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 67 regular-season games. He has been up to his old tricks in the Edmonton bubble, scoring 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 16 games. The 36-year-old is tied for the team lead in goals.
DeBoer's Golden Knights, meanwhile, have to be favored to make it to the Stanley Cup final. Vegas fended off the Vancouver Canucks' second-round comeback, advancing to the franchise's second conference final in three years of existence. The Golden Knights have generated a higher share of 5-on-5 shot attempts, scoring chances and expected goals than any other team in the playoffs.
Pavelski and DeBoer are both seeking their first Stanley Cup. They came up two wins short in 2016 and six victories shy last year, and they now stand in the way of each other's first ring.
DeBoer named Pavelski captain after he was hired in 2015, and each still has a lot of respect for one another. The pleasantries, however, are on hold.
“He sent [Vegas assistant Steve Spott] and I a text last night congratulating us and in typical Joe fashion said, ‘We’ll talk to you after the series is over,’ ” DeBoer said told reporters Saturday (h/t The Athletic). “He’s got his game face on, there’ll be no communication. He’s there for one thing, and that’s to win, and you respect the hell out of him for that attitude because when you were coaching him that’s what you loved about him. That’s what carried a lot of the teams we had through the runs that we went on.”
As Pavelski noted, he and DeBoer got the initial shock out of the way during Dallas and Vegas' round-robin matchup. Any weirdness will be long-gone for Pavelski and DeBoer when they meet in the handshake line after as few as four games or as many as seven.
Just don't bet on the same being true for Sharks fans.