NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

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NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

NHL.com named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. 

NHL.com and NHL.com International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward. 

What Sharks need to do remainder of season to make Stanley Cup playoffs

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What Sharks need to do remainder of season to make Stanley Cup playoffs

There’s no denying the struggles and inconsistencies shown by the San Jose Sharks this season. But if playoff qualification is the first step at redemption, just how close or far off are they?

I’ve crunched the numbers and used comparable metrics from the four prior seasons. Whether they create optimism or pessimism will be for you to decide.

The third-place team in the Pacific Division has posted an average of 97.5 points over the last four seasons.

The second wild-card team in the Western Conference has earned an average of 91.5 points.

The Sharks already have played 38 games (16-20-2), tallying 34 points. That’s an average of 0.895 points per game.

Projecting that current pace over the course of 82 games would have San Jose finishing with 73 points.

With the present accounted for, let's consider the remaining 48 games on the regular-season schedule.

The Sharks would need roughly 58 points (1.2 per game) for that second wild-card spot in the West. This would necessitate records similar to (25-15-8) or (29-19-0).

The Sharks would need roughly 64 points (1.33 per game) for third place in the Pacific. This would necessitate records similar to (29-13-6) or (32-16-0).

Accurate projections are near impossible to grasp, however, based on where this team has been so far.  Here is San Jose's season, in chronological order:

  • Lost four straight
  • Won three straight 
  • Lost seven of eight
  • Won 11 of 13
  • Lost nine of 10


[RELATED: Holiday break gives Sharks chance to reflect on first half]

To state the obvious here in late-December: Qualifying for the playoffs is not out of reach. But every loss from here on out will only complicate the matter, and critically degrade the Sharks' chances.

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2015-16 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2015-16 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 continue with the 2015-16 Sharks.

The 2015-16 season was one of firsts for the Sharks. 

It was their first season with Peter DeBoer behind the bench as head coach, and the first with Martin Jones in net. Joe Pavelski wore the captain's "C," Tomas Hertl scored 20-plus goals and Brent Burns finished as a Norris Trophy, all for the first time in their respective careers. 

The biggest first, however, came for the franchise in the postseason. The Sharks advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in the 2016, after three previous appearances in the Western Conference final ended two wins shy of getting there. While the season didn't end with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau lifting the Cup, San Jose got over a hump that had dogged the franchise for most of its second decade. 

Here's a look back at the 2015-16 Sharks, the second-best team in franchise history. 

Why they're the best

The Sharks hired DeBoer just over a month after mutually parting ways with Todd McLellan. San Jose struggled in McLellan's final season behind the bench, falling to the middle of the pack in 5-on-5 puck possession a year after finishing in the top five by most metrics. Much of that decline stemmed from a diminished roster after the Sharks declared themselves a "tomorrow team" after blowing a three-games-to-none series in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs the previous season, and San Jose missed the postseason in 2014-15 for the first time in over a decade. 

In 2015-16, the Sharks rebounded as a strong puck-possession team. Free-agent signings Joonas Donskoi (11 goals, 25 assists) and Joel Ward (21 goals, 22 assists) gave San Jose some much-needed secondary offense behind the likes of Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, Hertl and Logan Couture, and chipped in some key goals during the team's playoff run. Defenseman Paul Martin, who also was signed as a free agent in 2015, proved to be a steadying presence on the blue line and developed strong chemistry with Burns in the bearded blue liner's second season back on defense. 

San Jose arguably was at its deepest in net, too. Alex Stalock struggled as the team's backup, and was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that brought James Reimer to the Sharks. Reimer proved to be exactly what the Sharks needed, posting a .938 save percentage and three shutouts in eight starts for San Jose down the stretch. As the unquestioned starter, Jones won more games (37) and had a higher regular-season save percentage (.918) than he has since. He also matched the franchise record for playoff shutouts (three), back-stopping the team to the Cup Final.

Oh yeah, there's that whole "winning the Western Conference" thing, which no Sharks team ever did before or has done since. That run, which included a revenge win over the Kings in the first round, counts for something. 

Why they're not

It would be unfair to call the Sharks' 24th season pedestrian, considering it ended with an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.  But, there arguably were more impressive San Jose teams which didn't make it that far in the postseason.

Twelve regular seasons in Sharks history ended with more points than the 2015-16 campaign. San Jose had a better goal-differential in seven seasons, scored more goals in 10, allowed fewer in 12 and won more games in six. Those teams ahead of the 2015-16 squad didn't make it to the Final, of course, but they didn't have the same postseason path as these Sharks. 

The Kings, like the Sharks, also were coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs, and weren't the same team that reverse-swept San Jose two seasons prior. The Nashville Predators pushed the Sharks in a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff second-round series, but Nashville's first-round upset of the Anaheim Ducks meant the Sharks avoided a team that won the Pacific Division and beat them three out of four times in the regular season. The St. Louis Blues, whom the Sharks eliminated in the Western Conference final, did finish the regular season with the third-most points. Still, facing St. Louis meant San Jose avoided the Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn-led Dallas Stars. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins posed a real challenge in the Stanley Cup Final, utilizing superior depth and speed en route to eliminating the Sharks in a six-game series. While Pittsburgh and San Jose were close on the scoreboard, the Penguins controlled 54.7 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts and 62.2 percent of the high-danger chances. Jones kept the Sharks in that series, but the Penguins clearly were the better team. 

No team wins a Stanley Cup without any luck, but the circumstances of the Sharks' run to the Final are worth taking into account. 

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

Verdict

Of course, so is the end result. Being the second-to-last team standing at the end of a playoff run, as the 2015-16 Sharks were, is better than any other team that has worn the uniform to date.

The Cup Final appearance also represented something of a culmination for the much-maligned Thornton and Marleau, who bore the bulk of the criticism over the previous decade as the Sharks failed to make it out of the conference final. No two players have played more games for San Jose, and it was fitting that they were on the team for the franchise's first appearance on the NHL's biggest stage -- even if it came closer to the end of their careers rather than the middle of their prime. 

Had Thornton, Marleau and the Sharks lifted the Cup three years ago, the 2015-16 team undoubtedly would top this list -- as they surely do for many San Jose fans. But the 2015-16 season ended without a championship, just as every campaign that preceded it and subsequently has followed. 

We firmly are in the highly-subjective nit-picking portion of this series, but that leaves just enough room for another team to take the top spot. 

Best teams in Sharks history

No. 5: 2001-02 
No. 4:
2005-06
No. 3: 2018-19