Why the San Jose Sharks should be Canada's playoff team
We feel for you, Canada.
We know you'll be watching the NHL playoffs when they get underway next week, but we know your hearts won't quite be in it. Not without a rooting interest to keep you hanging on every shot, every save, every ... coach's challenge.
You need to feel some kind of investment this time of year. Even if it is only temporary.
We're here to point you in the direction of that investment: The San Jose Sharks.
Hesitant to climb on the bandwagon? We get it. Embracing the Sharks might pose a few challenges. Maybe you're a Canucks fan who is still bitter about that four-game sweep back in 2013. Maybe you remember that San Jose's last trip to the playoffs back in 2014 didn't quite go the Sharks' way. Or maybe you live east of Winnipeg and those late West Coast starts play havoc with your sleep schedule.
That might not make it easy on you. But here's what you get in return: a team that boasts the NHL's fourth-best offense at 2.90 goals per game, the fourth-best power play (22.1%) and the only club to feature three players—Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns—among the league's top-nine scorers. The Sharks have also tightened things up in the defensive zone in time for the playoffs, to the point that they're now tied for first in fewest shots allowed (just 27.5 per game), while improving their goals-against to 2.56.
And while they'd love to work their way into second place in the Pacific Division and home ice in the first round, they'll be just fine starting on the road. San Jose has compiled a league-best 27-10-3 record on the road. For all the value that's placed on home ice, this could be the element that makes the Sharks the team most likely to emerge from the lower half of the bracket.
No, they're nobody's favorite to go all the way. But this team has the talent and the experience to make a deep run. And it has the personalities that'll make for a fun ride.
Thornton is the highly respected veteran who everyone would love to see standing with the Stanley Cup hoisted above his head. The 36-year-old is the Western Conference's answer to Jaromir Jagr, an ageless wonder who has played himself into Hart Trophy consideration with a remarkable second half. Thornton's 52 points since Jan. 1 rank second only to Sidney Crosby's 55 and he looks like he's having a blast every time he steps on the ice.
Pavelski is the unheralded marksman who quietly sits fifth in goal scoring with 36 (tied with sniper extraordinaire Steven Stamkos) and sixth in points (76) while playing a relentless two-way game. He might be the best all-around American-born player in the game today.
Joel Ward is the working-class hero, a playoff vet who knows exactly where to go and what to do when he gets there. Tomas Hertl is the fun-loving youngster who is a highlight reel moment just waiting to happen. And Michael Haley brings that willingness to pay a physical price that gets a crowd on its feet.
Goaltender Martin Jones is the kid with something to prove, possibly against his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round. Or it could be affable veteran James Reimer between the pipes. The former Maple Leaf and pending UFA would love a chance to prove he can be a go-to guy when the games matter most.
And then there's Burns. He's not the player the hockey world wants. He's the player the hockey world needs. A cartoon character come to life, with the goofy outfits and the muscle flexing and the gap-toothed grin that's somehow wide enough to escape the forest of fur that covers his face and is the envy of every player in the league.
Burns also happens to be one of the very best blueliners in the game, a beast at both ends of the ice who this season established franchise records for both goals (27) and points (74) by a defenseman. And he just might turn the Norris Trophy battle into a three-horse race before he cranks the knob all the way to 11 and sets his sights on his first-ever Cup.
There'll be 15 other teams vying for your affections this spring, but none quite as entertaining as the Sharks. And none that will offer you the Brent Burns experience. So get on board ... after the season your team had, what else have you got to lose?
The numbers game
• The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the Rangers or the Bruins lose to the Hurricanes. A Lightning loss will open the door for the Panthers to clinch the Atlantic Division by beating the Canadiens or bagging a point while the Bolts lose to New York in regulation.
* The Islanders clinch if they beat the Capitals or grab one point while the Bruins lose to the Hurricanes in regulation.
• The Wild are in if they defeat the Sharks and the Avalanche lose to the Predators, or Minnesota gets one point while Colorado falls to Nashville in regulation.
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• The season-long excellence of Brent Burns is proving that the Norris race isn't the contest many think it is.
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