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Are the San Jose Sharks really chokers?

Joe Thornton, Jonas Hiller

San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton, right, celebrates Patrick Marleau’s goal over the top of Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller during the third period of a first-round NHL hockey playoff game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, April 21, 2009. The Sharks won 4-3. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)


One of my instincts is to question conventional wisdom. (After all, if I didn’t then I would have just crumbled in high school as people laughed at my clothes and mountain scent. I was raised by wolves.) If there’s one common refrain for hockey fans, it’s that “the Sharks choke in the playoffs.” Certainly, there’ some fire to go with that smoke. There’s that series with the Edmonton Oilers, when the team coughed up a 2-0 series lead to the Pronger fueled Oilers squad (too soon, Edmonton fans?). There were times in last year’s series against the Ducks that I felt like it might be necessary to check Joe Thornton’s pulse.

Then again, one thing strikes me about all those moments of “choking": the Sharks lost to some really good teams (not surprising since it’s the West). Just take a look at the series they lost the last few years and what those teams went on to do.

2008-09: Sharks lose to Ducks 4-2 in the first round. Eight seeded Ducks push the Red Wings (the Western Conference’s Stanley Cup Finals representative) to the limit in a seven game series.

2007-08: Sharks lose to Stars 4-2 in the second round. Dallas has a nice run before meeting Red Wings-based reality. So San Jose loses to the team who lost to the Stanley Cup champions, basically meaning they lost to the Cup champions by One Degree of Kevin Bacon.

2006-07: Sharks lose to Red Wings 4-2 in the second round. The Red Wings lose to eventual Cup champions Anaheim. Once again, Kevin Bacon’d.

2005-06: Sharks lose to Oilers 4-2 in the second round. Oilers go on to lose in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

2004-05: Boo lockout. Boo to you.

2003-04: Sharks lose to Flames 4-3 in conference finals. Flames go on to lose in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

After looking at those results, I cannot help but wonder if the Sharks are just wildly unlucky. Everyone loves to beat up on Jumbo Joe Thornton, but his San Jose playoff numbers actually are pretty solid (35 points in 41 games). Perhaps it’s all about how they lose, not who they lose to, though. Thornton and Patrick Marleau are a microcosm of that: they aren’t prone to dramatic expressions of sadness; rarely will you see them break a stick on the ice or, you know, yell.

But are the Sharks really chokers? I’m not so sure. They might just be unlucky. Speaking of which, that Craig Anderson kid’s pretty good ...