Sharks fans haven't had much reason to celebrate in 2020, but Monday night offered two tremendous reasons to get excited.
First and foremost, former Sharks captain Joe Pavelski secured a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The icing on the cake, of course, was that he and the Dallas Stars did so by eliminating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
Fifteen to 20 years ago, Sharks fans might have had a tough time rooting for the Stars, as they arguably were San Jose's chief rival at the time. There's no ambiguity as to which team occupies that status right now, though. Whether the Sharks are a cup contender or cellar dweller, the last team they want to see succeed is Vegas.
So, the worst possible outcome -- the Golden Knights hoisting the Cup while the Sharks have been stuck at home for months -- is off the table. In a year in which wins have been hard to come by, that provides a bit of solace. But when you consider Pavelski played a crucial role in eliminating them, and now has an excellent opportunity to win his first Cup, it goes beyond that.
Pavelski is one of the most endeared players in Sharks franchise history. He gave San Jose 13 tremendous seasons filled with clutch performances and admirable leadership, and though he departed in free agency this past offseason, it's not as if he spurned the Sharks for a lesser offer. He deserved the opportunity to be compensated beyond what San Jose believed it could afford, and Dallas clearly has been better for it.
If you need a refresher as to what Pavelski has meant to the Sharks, transport yourself back to the final minutes of regulation of Game 7 of the first-round playoff series between San Jose and Vegas in 2019 -- when Pavelski laid on the ice with blood pooling out of his head. The Sharks' response that followed -- an incredible four goals on a single power play to turn a three-goal deficit into a lead -- was powered by their loyalty and affection for their captain. When Pavelski's head was cracked open, San Jose literally and figuratively saw red.
The end result, of course, was the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history, sealed by former Shark Barclay Goodrow's series-winning goal in the first overtime. It exists as arguably the most iconic moment in Sharks franchise history.
The Sharks don't get that far without Pavelski. They don't become annual contenders for the Cup without him. They don't produce countless memorable moments without him. In fact, the track record isn't very impressive without him.
Pavelski was a great Shark, and it's a true shame that he wasn't able to hoist Lord Stanley while wearing teal. Obviously, it won't be as meaningful for Sharks fans if he finally does so with the Stars, but after everything he has done for San Jose -- not to mention the favor Dallas just did the Sharks -- there's no question many in the Bay Area will be pulling for the Stars when the Stanley Cup Final begins.