After the San Jose Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Kings, the images of the 2014 first-round matchup likely came flooding back into hockey fans’ heads.
The Sharks were off to a flying start in the series, having stolen both games at Staples Center and playing quite well in the process. But Sharks fans had seen this horror film before. In 2014, their team was leading 3-0 in the series and proceeded to lose the next four games. It was an epic collapse — just the fourth time in history an NHL franchise had squandered a three-game postseason lead.
This Sharks team was clearly not in the mood to experience such agony again. San Jose clobbered Los Angeles, downing the Kings in five games.
Los Angeles generated a number of quality scoring chances in this series, but head coach Darryl Sutter’s team was denied time and time again by former Kings goalie Martin Jones. The 26-year-old Jones posted a .912 save percentage in the series, averaging nearly 23 saves per game against his old team. Standout play from the Sharks’ netminder, as well as the veteran attacking corps really gelling, ought to have fans wondering if this team could win it all this year.
Aside from Jones’ sound goaltending, the obvious reason to consider the Sharks a contender is because of the top line. Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl compose one of the most formidable trios in the league.
The Pavelski-Thornton-Hertl line plays approximately 30 percent of the time. When those three are on the ice, the Sharks seem to have no trouble keeping the puck and pinning opponents in their own territory. Thornton’s composure on the puck played a massive role in San Jose’s dismantling of the Kings. San Jose enjoyed a healthy amount of possession, as Thornton continued his outstanding run of form. While Jumbo Joe only scored once during this series, he facilitated play and set the tone of the game.
Pavelski, who racked up 78 points in the regular season, scored 5 goals in the first round. The Kings had no response for Pavelski. He continues to dominate alongside Thornton and Hertl. Pavelski also leads the charge on Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer’s top power play line, in which he plays alongside Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau.
Hertl has thrived alongside veterans Pavelski and Thornton. While he only scored 1 goal in the Kings series, Hertl showcased his playmaking abilities. If Thornton and Hertl can begin to find the back of the net with regularity this postseason, slowing the Sharks’ offense may be virtually impossible.
This organization has managed to retain seasoned players like Thornton and Pavelski, but San Jose qualifies as a legitimate contender to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this season also because of remarkable depth.
Couture and Marleau anchor the second and fourth lines, respectively. It is hard to think of another playoff team with a fourth line that has a player as talented as Marleau. Pittsburgh comes to mind, with Phil Kessel playing on the Penguins’ fourth unit, but the Sharks’ depth looks like the best in the west at the moment.
Assuming the Sharks can stay healthy, this team looks poised to make a serious run. Elite goal tending and a deep, versatile attack are necessities in terms of winning the Stanley Cup. And after doing quite the opposite of blowing a series lead against the Kings, the 2016 San Jose Sharks have turned a few heads with their convincing play. One of the league’s biggest underachievers from the past few seasons has put the pieces together.
Maybe, just maybe, the Warriors will not be the only title contenders from the Bay Area this year.
Josh Cohen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Cohen’s Corner,” ran Tuesdays.