Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

SAN JOSE -- There was plenty of worry when the Sharks had trouble winning games at the end of their regular season campaign. Even once they had a playoff spot clinched, reoccurring mistakes and concerns over the team’s health loomed. Not to mention knowledge their first-round opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights, had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous year.

But San Jose ended their 2018-19 campaign on a high note, and now, practice for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are officially underway. Critics across the league may still be picking Vegas, but the Sharks are every bit capable of knocking last year’s Western Conference champion out of the postseason.

First and foremost, the Sharks are finally healthy. Erik Karlsson not only looked strong after rejoining San Jose for the regular-season finale, but he clocked a whopping 22:01 minutes of ice time to boot. Joe Thornton, who missed last year’s playoffs due to a knee injury, is successfully leading the third offensive line at an astounding pace. Even Timo Meier, who missed the regular-season finale against the Avalanche with a suspected wrist injury, is expected to be game-ready for Game 1 at SAP Center on Wednesday evening. As the Sharks have shown during the regular season, they are a dangerous and deep group on the ice when their best players are in their best shape.

The depth a healthy Sharks’ roster brings to the ice is what they need to have success against Marc-Andre Fleury. The netminder missed time late in the regular season and lost his last two starts of his campaign, but San Jose knows he can play to another level once the playoffs start. During the Knights’ unprecedented playoff run last year, he made 453 saves on 490 shots-against. Over two starts against San Jose during the regular season, he registered a .950 save percentage.

“When he plays against us, he seems to be on top of his game,” Justin Braun said of Fleury. “Every chance you get, you’ve got to make count against these guys. I think [the Sharks] know that and they’ll be dialed in.”

Getting dialed in doesn’t just take place on the offensive side of the puck. San Jose’s defense has to buckle down and be darn near flawless against Vegas' potent attack, whether it’s the skilled William Karlsson-led top line or a heavy bottom-six with big players like Alex Tuch and Ryan Reaves. The Sharks already know they have to be on another level defensively, especially after being outscored by Vegas in last year’s playoffs 22-14.

“We scored enough to win, we just gave up too much,” Logan Couture said, recalling last year’s second round matchup with Vegas. “Going into this series, we have to be pretty tight defensively if we want to win it.”

[RELATED: Why Sharks can't start poorly against Golden Knights]

Perhaps one of the most important things the Sharks have going for them is knowing they can’t let Vegas get a rise out of them. The Knights are masters at agitating their opponents -- something the Sharks know quite well from four hard-hitting regular season contests. Committing early on to being disciplined works in San Jose’s favor.

“There are enough guys who have played enough playoff games in here to realize what it takes to win, and sometimes you’ve got to take some hits to make plays and not retaliate,” Logan Couture said. “I believe that’s something we’re capable of doing in here.”

Braun agreed. “You don’t want to be taking penalties or running around doing stupid things just to hit guys,” he summarized. “They’ll take advantage of that. Play hard, but play smart.”

If San Jose can stick to that gameplan and stay healthy, the Sharks should be in very good shape. 

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

2020 NHL playoffs: Everything Sharks fans need to know when tuning in

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer must be a strange experience for Sharks fans.

Sure, it's weird for every hockey fan watching games played in front of empty arenas in the middle of August during a global pandemic. But Sharks fans haven't spent much of the last few years as passive postseason observers, advancing to at least the Western Conference final in two of the four years preceding 2020.

There are plenty of intriguing storylines now that the playoff field has been whittled down to 16 teams. Which should Sharks fans pay attention to? Here's a guide to the postseason for San Jose supporters.

The Villains

Sharks fans' rooting interests in the playoffs can be best described as "Anyone but the Vegas Golden Knights." Not only did San Jose and Vegas square off in the last two postseasons, but the Golden Knights now are coached by former Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer.

You'd have a difficult time convincing teal diehards to root for Chicago in the first round, considering how many times "Chelsea Dagger" played in the Original Six franchise's Western Conference final sweep of the Sharks a decade ago. But when the alternative is seeing the DeBoer-led Golden Knights march toward a Stanley Cup, Sharks fans have an easy choice.

The Familiar Faces

My colleague in content Brian Witt highlighted some of the biggest former Sharks still playing for a Stanley Cup. Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski -- that's still odd to type -- leads the list, but there are quite a few players who once donned teal who are playing for hockey's ultimate prize.

The Eastern Conference could lead to some difficult rooting choices for Sharks fans, though. It's likely that two of the Philadelphia Flyers (Justin Braun), Tampa Bay Lightning (Barclay Goodrow) and Washington Capitals (Brenden Dillon) will square off, and each player still is looking for their first ring.

[RELATED: How Sharks benefit from Rangers winning NHL draft lottery]

The Jokes

Somewhat surprisingly, the NHL really has leaned into the weirdness of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs being played in two buildings -- Edmonton's Rogers Place and Toronto's Scotiabank Arena -- for audiences watching from their couches. There has been a tribute to the "fans" in attendance, a ban on the wave and even multiple appearances from designated hat throwers when a player scores a hat trick.

The NHL had to postpone a playoff game because Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena went to five overtimes. Columbus' official account then tweeted this.

The Sharks had some fun with it, too. Collectively commiserating over the playoffs' fundamental strangeness is going to lead to a lot more over the next couple months, even if San Jose isn't a part of the postseason.

Sharks post hilarious tweet during Lightning-Blue Jackets five-OT game

Sharks post hilarious tweet during Lightning-Blue Jackets five-OT game

The Sharks aren't involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But like many hockey fans, they were excited to take in the opening games of four first-round series on Tuesday, all back-to-back starting at noon PT.

So much so that they cleared their calendar.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets played the second of those four games, in what many expected to be a heated matchup after the Blue Jackets memorably upset and swept the Lightning in the first round last year. What they didn't expect, however, was that game going to an incredible fifth overtime and lasting well into the night.

Lightning forward Brayden Point ultimately ended the marathon at the 10:27 mark of the fifth OT, making it the fourth-longest game in NHL playoff history. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo stopped 85 of the first 87 shots he faced. He couldn't stop the 88th.

[RELATED: How Sharks benefit from Rangers winning NHL draft lottery]

Prior to the conclusion of the second game on Tuesday's slate, the league ultimately decided to move the fourth and final scheduled game between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes to 8 a.m. PT on Wednesday morning.

So, thanks to the Lightning and Blue Jackets, the Sharks can watch a full game before Wednesday's boring weekly meeting.

Well, that is unless it goes to a fifth OT.