Joonas Donskoi

Eight former Sharks players fans can cheer for when NHL playoffs begin

Eight former Sharks players fans can cheer for when NHL playoffs begin

For only the third time since the turn of the century, the Sharks are not a playoff team. They won't play in another game that counts until December at the earliest, but that doesn't mean San Jose fans don't have something -- or someone -- to root for in the NHL's expanded playoff format.

A handful of former Sharks still are alive on one of the 24 teams that qualified for the postseason. Some of them recently wore the teal sweater, while others left San Jose long ago.

Here are eight former San Jose players that Sharks fans should be rooting for throughout the NHL playoffs:

Patrick Marleau

Duh.

Mr. Shark has now has gone through two tours of duty in San Jose, but he currently plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins after being acquired at the trade deadline. Though Sharks fans might find it difficult to cheer for the Penguins after they defeated their favorite squad in their one and only Stanley Cup Finals appearance, this might represent Marleau's last good chance to raise Lord Stanley.

After everything Marleau has done for the franchise, Sharks fans owe it to him to cheer him and -- to a lesser degree -- the Penguins on. And depending what happens this offseason, don't rule out a third go for Marleau in San Jose.

Joe Pavelski

Another duh.

The former Sharks captain came up in the clutch time and time again for San Jose, and it certainly was painful for their fans to see him go. Pavelski signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency last offseason, and while his production dropped off, it's well known that he provides plenty of value beyond the statsheet.

Pavelski recorded 100 points across 134 playoff games with the Sharks, and the playoffs arguably are where he does his best work. Much like Marleau, he endeared himself to Sharks fans over his long tenure with the franchise, and there's no question they'll be pulling for him to win his first cup.

Barclay Goodrow

He might have scored the most memorable goal in Sharks franchise history. His series-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 against the rival Golden Knights -- completing the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history -- forever cemented him in San Jose lore.

Goodrow might stand the best chance of any former Shark to win it all this year. Traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the deadline -- for a first-round pick -- he now plays for one of the prohibitive favorites. 

Joonas Donskoi

He scored the first game-winning goal in a Stanley Cup Finals game in Sharks franchise history, and the Avalanche arguably have enjoyed having him as much as San Jose missed him this past season after signing with Colorado in free agency. Donskoi scored a career-high 16 goals in just 65 games with the Avs during the regular season, offense the Sharks most certainly could have used.

No need to be bitter, though. Donskoi broke through with San Jose, and on Colorado, he finds himself on one of the favorites to win it all.

Brenden Dillon

The hard-hitting defenseman was a fixture on the Sharks' blue line for the majority of six seasons, and when it became clear San Jose wasn't headed to the playoffs, he was sent to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline. The Caps ended their Stanley Cup drought two seasons ago, and enter the playoffs with a legitimate chance to make it two cups in three years.

Sharks fans have a reason to cheer for Washington beyond the fact that Dillon now plays there. In return for Dillon, San Jose received a 2020 second-round draft pick via Colorado as well as the Capitals' 2021 third-round pick. However, if the Caps win it all, that 2021 third-rounder turns into a 2020 third-rounder (belonging to the Arizona Coyotes).

Justin Braun

After spending the first nine seasons of his NHL career in San Jose, Braun was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers last offseason in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and 2020 third-round selection.

A steady performer on the blue line, he brings ample playoff experience to the table -- 84 games to be exact. The Flyers finished in the top four of the Eastern Conference prior to the season being halted, and as such, they're not included in the qualifying round. Rather, they'll participate in a round-robin against the Lightning, Boston Bruins and Capitals to determine playoff seeding.

Dylan DeMelo

Sent to the Ottawa Senators as part of the trade package to acquire Erik Karlsson, DeMelo has since been traded again to the Winnipeg Jets prior to the deadline, giving him an opportunity to play for a playoff team.

DeMelo has been a solid performer since leaving San Jose, and as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, it's not out of the question that he could be brought back.

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Thomas Greiss

Selected by the Sharks in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Greiss spent his fourth and final season in San Jose back in 2012-13. He has had his best years since, as the 34-year-old won the William M. Jennings Trophy last season, given annually to the goalie with the fewest goals scored against during the regular season.

Greiss currently is in his fifth season with the New York Islanders, but likely will serve as Semyon Varlamov's backup to begin the playoffs. Another unrestricted free agent this offseason, he potentially could return to the Sharks and provide some competition for Martin Jones.

Ranking Sharks' top five playoff overtime moments in franchise history

Ranking Sharks' top five playoff overtime moments in franchise history

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on some of the most remarkable moments in sports. The fourth episode tells the story of the "Marathon on Ice" between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Of the four major sports, the NHL has the most exciting postseason structure.

Why? Because nothing compares to playoff overtime hockey.

You know when it starts, but have no clue when it will end. For every quick finish, there seems to be a marathon conclusion. Often times, teams will play the equivalent of multiple games within the same contest. Prevail, and it's sheer jubilation. Lose, and it hurts twice as much.

The Sharks have experienced their fair share of both sides of that coin. Since Doug Wilson took over as GM prior to the start of the 2003-04 season, San Jose has qualified for the playoffs 15 times and the Sharks' 30 Stanley Cup Playoff rounds over that span are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most in the NHL.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Here are the Sharks' five best playoff overtime moments throughout franchise history:

5. Ray Whitney stuns the Flames

Following a lockout-shortened regular season in which the Sharks went 19-25-4, San Jose entered the postseason tied for the fewest points (42) of any playoff team, setting up a matchup with the Pacific Division-winning Calgary Flames. The underdog Sharks got off to a tremendous start in the series, stealing each of the first two games at the Saddledome in Calgary. However, the Flames returned the favor by outscoring the Sharks 15-6 over the next two games in San Jose and then moved within one game of advancing with a 5-0 shutout in Game 5.

The Sharks, however, would not be denied.

Facing elimination at home in Game 6, Ray Whitney provided an insurance goal -- his first of the series -- midway through the third period to secure an eventual 5-3 victory. Then, the series transitioned back to Calgary for a winner-take-all Game 7, and Whitney played the role of the hero.

After a scoreless first overtime, Whitney deflected a Sergei Makarov shot past Flames goalie Trevor Kidd less than two minutes into the second. Game over. Series over. First-ever overtime series-clincher in Sharks franchise history.

4. Jumbo goes for a slide

Despite winning the Pacific Division in 2010-11, the Sharks faced a Los Angeles Kings team in the first round of the playoffs that had earned just seven fewer points than them during the regular season. The Sharks ultimately prevailed in a tightly-contested series that featured not one, not two, but three overtime results. All of them went in San Jose's favor, and the final one ended the series altogether.

After Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi came up in the clutch in Games 1 and 3, respectively, the Sharks had an opportunity to close out the series in Game 6 on the Kings' home ice. San Jose held a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, but Los Angeles evened things up with a power-play goal and ultimately sent the game to OT. 

Just over two minutes into the extra period, Setoguchi fired a pass to Patrick Marleau in the slot. Marleau fanned, but the puck took a fortuitous bounce off to the left side of the net, where Joe Thornton had been fighting for positioning. In one continuous motion, Thornton made a 180-degree turn and slapped the puck into the open net, ending the game and the series.

It was arguably the biggest goal of Thornton's decorated career, and he celebrated accordingly by sliding on his behind into a crowd of teammates at center ice.

3. Hertl's big moment

It didn't take long for the Sharks and Golden Knights to establish a rivalry. In Vegas' expansion season, it's Cinderella story included a second-round series victory over San Jose. A year later, that defeat surely still was fresh in the Sharks' minds.

They don't like each other. Not even a little bit. Which makes the playoff series between the two teams all the tenser. For the Sharks, it didn't get much tenser than facing elimination heading into Game 6 in Sin City.

Logan Couture provided a brief settling moment when he gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead with nine seconds remaining in the first period. Vegas' Jonathan Marchessault then spoiled things -- get used to it -- by tying things up in the second period. Neither team scored in the third -- or the first overtime, for that matter.

Then, in the second OT, it appeared like all was lost. Barclay Goodrow took a slashing penalty midway through, putting the Golden Knights on the power play. Looks can be deceiving, however, and they were. Marc-Edouard Vlasic collected a loose puck in the defensive zone and found Tomas Hertl near center ice. In a developing 1-on-2, Hertl outraced one Golden Knight and used the other as a screen while firing a wicked wrist shot past San Jose nemesis Marc-Andre Fleury.

Somehow, it wasn't the Sharks' biggest OT goal in the series.

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2. Goodrow finishes off the comeback

For all of the heroics Hertl provided in Game 6, the fun times were short-lived. Vegas scored a goal in each of the first two periods of Game 7, and then took a commanding 3-0 lead on Max Pacioretty's goal 3:36 into the third. It was as bleak as things got for San Jose.

Well, until captain Joe Pavelski started bleeding from the head while lying motionless on the ice. At that point, the Sharks were dealing with much more than the scoreboard. And, boy, did they rise to the occasion.

Vegas' Cody Eakin was assessed a five-minute major for cross-checking. What happened next was the single-greatest powerplay in NHL playoff history.

Seven seconds into the powerplay, Couture got San Jose on the board. Forty-nine seconds later, Hertl pulled the Sharks within one. Two minutes and 44 seconds after that, Couture tied things up. Twenty-eight seconds later, Kevin Labanc blew the roof off of SAP Center, putting San Jose up 4-3. 

It was the single-greatest powerplay in NHL playoff history, but once again, Marchessault played the spoiler. His goal with 47 seconds remaining in regulation tied the score and sent the series into a decisive overtime. This time, however, the Sharks didn't require a second OT period.

In the second minute of play, Erik Karlsson intercepted a puck near center ice, entered the offensive zone and made a great pass to Goodrow, who was driving toward the net. Goodrow received the puck on his backhand, corralled it with his forehand and drove across the mouth of the crease. His shot beat Fleury on the far side, completing the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history.

Sheer pandemonium.

1. Donskoi stands alone

For all of the playoff success the Sharks have experienced, they've still yet to achieve the ultimate prize. San Jose made its first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2015-16 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Joonas Donskoi provided the highest point of the journey in Game 3.

After Pittsburgh prevailed 2-1 in overtime on home ice in Game 2, the Sharks returned the favor in Game 3. After both sides scored a goal each in the first period, the Penguins scored one late in the second and Joel Ward tied it up for San Jose midway through the third.

With just under eight minutes remaining in the first OT, Donskoi corralled the puck deep in Pittsburgh's zone. He and Chris Tierney orchestrated a give-and-go, resulting in Donskoi receiving the puck behind the Penguins' net. As he skated out towards the front of the net, Donskoi turned and quickly shot an odd-angle wrister past Penguins goalie Matt Murray, in what amounted to the first-ever and only Stanley Cup Final overtime goal in Sharks franchise history thus far.

Unfortunately, San Jose went on to lose the series four games to two.

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Joel Ward hopes to become Sharks coach after announcing NHL retirement

Outside of Barclay Goodrow and Joonas Donskoi, Joel Ward arguably is responsible for the biggest goals in Sharks franchise history. Whereas Donskoi's earned San Jose its first-ever win in a Stanley Cup final game, Ward got the team there to begin with.

His two goals in Game 6 of the 2015-16 Western Conference final extended what was an early Sharks lead into a three-goal cushion, the second of which proved to be the game-winner and series-clincher in a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues. A team that had time and again suffered disheartening postseason exits finally, at last, sat atop the Western Conference.

Sadly, the Sharks couldn't check off the last box on their playoff list -- one that still remains unchecked today. Donskoi provided the overtime heroics in Game 3 of the Final, but San Jose ultimately was vanquished by the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. 

That was the first of three seasons Ward spent with the Sharks, as he became a fan favorite due to his gritty style and penchant for the clutch. He last appeared in 52 games with San Jose during the 2017-18 season, and the 11-year veteran officially announced his retirement from the NHL on Monday.

"I loved it," Ward said of his career on a conference call with reporters Monday. "The game treated me so well, and I'm at peace with everything. I got to play a few hockey games, which was great, more than I could even imagine I'd be playing. It feels great to have it out there and everybody knows."

Ward totaled 133 goals and 171 assists across 726 career regular-season games, and he added another 22 goals and 30 helpers in 83 playoff contests. After going undrafted, he broke into the NHL with the Minnesota Wild before playing for the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and, finally, the Sharks.

San Jose -- where he still resides -- holds a special place in his heart and although his playing days are over, he still might have a role within the franchise ... as a coach.

"I've had some talks with the Sharks kind of briefly, going back and forth a few times," Ward said. "We've chatted about some different areas. I've kind of shared that I'd like to hopefully get on the ice at some point with them, if it can work out. It's been on and off chats with the Sharks. If things did work out, yeah, it would be great to stay here. We've got to wait and see what's going to happen after [the season pause]."

Ward admitted that he knew he was "pretty much done" playing for quite some time, but the official retirement announcement was meant to let others know that he is looking for work in the league, and is serious about it. He played with and for a number of all-time greats and brings a vast array of experience to the table, and now he wants to pass that on to the next generation of NHL players.

"I've had such great teachers, coaches, I think I've learned so much over the years that it would be a shame to keep it to myself," Ward explained. "I've gone through a lot of teams with different philosophies and everything. I played in all different aspects of the game. I've been fortunate to play on some top lines a couple of times and on the bottom. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of great hockey people."

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Bob Boughner remains the Sharks' interim coach for the time being, though general manager Doug Wilson recently said he has the "upper hand" to have that interim tag removed and remain behind San Jose's bench. Boughner promoted multiple former Sharks' fan favorites -- Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- to coaching positions upon taking over for Peter DeBoer.

Perhaps he adds another in Ward.