Sharks

Sharks

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.