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Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2001-02 team ranks in franchise history

Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We begin with the 2001-02 Sharks.

It's Shark Week, and you know what that means.

"Jaws" marathons, maybe a rewatch of "Deep Blue Sea", and -- oh yeah -- a ranking of the best teams in San Jose Sharks history.

After all, in a week dedicated to some of the most intimidating underwater creatures, it's only fitting that we do the same to the NHL team named after them.

Some choices are obvious, others not so much. The Sharks have qualified for the playoffs in 19 of the last 21 seasons, so there's plenty of quality teams to choose from, but that can make distinguishing between them that much more challenging.

Still, though, we're talking the best of the best. With that, here's a look back at the fifth-best team in San Jose franchise history -- the 2001-02 Sharks:

Why they're the best

In the first decade of the Sharks' existence, they never won more than 40 games, nor did they claim a Pacific Division title.

In year No. 11, that all changed.

The 2001-02 squad was arguably the first team in franchise history that had the look of a legitimate Stanley Cup champion. San Jose won 44 games and tied with the Avalanche for the second-highest regular-season point total (99) in the conference behind only Detroit.

The 2001-02 team's strength lied in its balance, as it had six different 20-goal scorers, not including Mike Ricci and Adam Graves, who scored 19 and 17 goals, respectively. Owen Nolan led the Sharks with 66 points in 75 games, while Teemu Selanne scored a team-high 29 goals.

The depth wasn't limited to the skaters, though, as San Jose's goaltending was arguably in as good of a spot as it had ever been. Evgeni Nabokov was the unquestioned starter in his second full season, while Miikka Kiprusoff appeared in 20 games, and Vesa Toskala appeared in a single game as a rookie. In total, the Sharks' goalies posted a .915 save percentage (third-best in NHL) and 2.33 goals-against average over the course of the regular season.

Why they're not

The Sharks have had several heartbreaking playoff losses throughout their history, and 2001-02 certainly qualifies.

San Jose breezed through the first round of the postseason, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in only five games. The Sharks then advanced to the Western Conference semifinals to face Colorado in what would turn out to be an epic seven-game series.

Facing the likes of Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and Peter Forsberg, the Sharks took Games 1, 3 and 5 to put themselves in position to finish the series off at home in Game 6.  After a scoreless first period, Marcus Ragnarssson scored to give the Sharks a very brief lead, as Colorado tied it up 24 seconds later on the last goal scored in regulation. Less than three minutes into the first overtime, Forsberg kept the Avalanche's season alive.

That wasn't the end of the pain, though.

Heading into Game 7, Selanne had scored 408 regular-season and 18 playoff goals in his decorated career. The Sharks could not have asked for a better person to have the puck facing an empty net, which is precisely what happened less than five minutes into the winner-take-all contest. Selanne came behind the Colorado net on a backhand wraparound, but as he tried to tuck it in, the puck slid off his blade and went across the crease, right to Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy.

San Jose went on to lose Game 7, 1-0, missing an opportunity to reach its first-ever Western Conference final, and that appeared to have a carry-over effect into the next year, when the Sharks finished dead last in the Pacific Division and posted their lowest point total in a non-lockout-shortened season since the turn of the century.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

There was no shame in losing to an uber-talented team like Colorado (who went on to lose in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings), but it's easy to look back and wonder, what if?

The 2001-02 Sharks had a tremendous opportunity, but get dinged for their inability to capitalize on it, and the ensuing hangover. They may not have been the most star-studded team in the league, but nonetheless, they had one of the best combinations of skill, grit and goaltending in franchise history.

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Another night, another Sharks’ win.

San Jose certainly didn’t make things easy on itself against the Red Wings at SAP Center on Saturday night, and although the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, Detroit bounced back from two deficits and forced the contest into overtime. Kevin Labanc, though, played the hero with the lone marker in the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory and extend Team Teal's winning streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's exciting win:

Jones comes up big

Martin Jones deserves credit for his solid play throughout the month of November, and San Jose's goaltender had another good start against Detroit. The Red Wings picked up speed over the course of the game and outshot the Sharks, but Jones was a steady presence throughout. Taro Hirose's second-period goal that tied the game 2-2 wasn't his fault and, frankly, he didn’t get much help from the defense when Andreas Athanasiou tied it up 3-3 late in the third period either.

One of Jones' best saves of the night actually came just before that Hirose goal when he made a huge kick save on Brandon Perlini that narrowly missed dribbling into the net. Although, to be fair, his blocker saves when San Jose went on the penalty kill in overtime were equally impressive.

If Jones continues making big saves like that on a nightly basis, the Sharks' fortunes will continue to turn for the better. 

Still in search of that four-line game 

The Sharks have been an improved even-strength team since the start of the month, but against the Red Wings, the forward attack didn't look as deep as it has on other nights. Labanc and Logan Couture did their fair share of the heavy lifting on the top line, as evidenced by Labanc's first-period goal and Couture's three assists on the evening. 

But other than that, San Jose's lines didn't generate much against a Red Wings team that doesn't have much forward depth itself. With two big divisional games coming up next week against the Oilers and the Golden Knights, the Sharks need more players to start producing on a regular basis. There's no way around it.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

On a positive note ...

Keep the big hits coming 

One of San Jose's top concerns heading into Saturday's game was being able to contain Detroit's speed. When the Wings did manage to break into the Sharks' defensive zone, San Jose did a good job of imposing its physicality and breaking up plays. Through the first two periods, the Sharks out-hit the Red Wings 10-5.

While San Jose still needs to work on taking more of the center of the ice away from the opposition, that's the kind of heavy game the Sharks must play regardless of how fast or physical the opponent is. If they can build off that performance, the wins will keep on coming.