SAN JOSE -- The boos followed John Tavares throughout the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs center heard them when he was introduced at Media Day on Thursday in front of a few hundred fans. He heard them again when he was introduced in front of thousands more at SAP Center before Friday’s skills competition, and then again ahead of Saturday’s All-Star Game.
Tavares, of course, opted not to sign with the 2019 NHL All-Star Game's hosts in free agency last summer.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but [they’re] obviously a very proud fan base,” he said after the Atlantic Division was eliminated in Saturday’s All-Star semifinal. “They love their Sharks, and they always create a great environment … when you come to play here on the road.
“I wasn’t the only one, so I wasn’t too lonely.”
A collection of Pacific Division rivals and San Jose’s playoff tormentors kept Tavares company.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty smiled and waved to the crowd when his name was booed ahead of the skills competition. He was treated to more boos Saturday, as was John Gibson.
The Anaheim Ducks goaltender brought out the boo-birds, then the Bronx cheers after giving up seven goals to the Central Division in Saturday’s other semifinal. The Pacific Division, headlined by Sharks All-Stars Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski, was headed for an early elimination, and the home crowd was not happy.
They chanted for Marc-Andre Fleury to come into the game as the first period wound down ... minutes after they also booed the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender’s introduction.
“Big emotions, right? Ups and downs,” Fleury joked. “I’ve been in John’s shoes. I think Columbus had the [2015 NHL All-Star Game], and I got booed and people were yelling to get me out of there. It’s not an easy place to be in.”
Fleury relied on his experience as an All-Star with the Pittsburgh Penguins playing in hostile territory, and embraced SAP Center's icy reception Saturday. When he received his own Bronx cheer after he made his first save, Fleury waved to the crowd with his glove hand.
“[I] just wanted to say thank you to the fans,” he quipped.
And then there was Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins superstar was absent with an illness Friday, but the announcement of that absence was booed. He was booed in the building Saturday, and opened the scoring for the Metropolitan Division 15 seconds in against the Atlantic.
Crosby scored three more goals across two games, and was booed (at least) three more times. The Metropolitan All-Stars emerged victorious, and Crosby was booed one last time when he was voted All-Star Game MVP.
He won another MVP award on the SAP Center ice about 18 months prior, receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy after his Penguins eliminated the Sharks on home ice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. After seeing the reception Pittsburgh teammate Kris Letang received Friday, Crosby said he knew what he was in for the next day.
Not that he didn’t understand why.
“They’re great fans here,” Crosby said. “Playing in playoffs here and even during the regular season over the years, it’s a tough place to play, and they love their team here. … Obviously you’d rather get cheered than booed. But at the same time, I know they’re passionate fans and they’ve got a good memory.”
Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle played alongside Tavares and against Crosby on Saturday. He said he had to be filled in about San Jose’s displeasure with Tavares, and a reporter told him during his press conference about the Sharks’ playoff history with the Penguins.
With that in mind, was he surprised Sharks fans were in regular-season mode during a trio of midseason exhibitions?
“There’s no nights off for the fans,” Yandle said. “They’re ready.”