Everything from Opening Night to Game 82 now means nothing.
Almost like 6 plus months of hockey just vanished, outside of the stats and standings.
Fair or not, there's one thing we know about annual expectations on the Sharks – they only start counting at Game 83 and beyond. This is the team's 20th postseason since inception in 1991. But it's uncharted territory without Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau's presence.
In many ways this is a new chapter of Sharks playoff hockey.
I'll be documenting my five best thoughts following each playoff game.
1: How much, if anything, carries over from the last few weeks?
The Sharks faltered at the finish line, losing five of the final six on the heels of an eight-game win streak. Meanwhile, the Ducks propelled themselves into the 2-seed having won 10 of their final 12, including seven straight on home ice.
These teams are trending in opposite directions entering Game 1, but what does history tell us about teams that ultimately won the Stanley Cup?
Let's look at the final 6 regular season games:
In 2013 Chicago went 4-2
In 2014 Los Angeles went 2-4
In 2015 Chicago went 2-4
In 2016 Pittsburgh went 5-1
In 2017 Pittsburgh went 4-2
2: The regular season matchup just makes this series more impossible to predict.
The Sharks took three of four games from Anaheim during meetings in November, January and February. However three of those four tilts were decided in shootouts, which clearly are not a factor anymore. These teams play ridiculously close games. Many are low scoring, and 11 of their last 12 meetings have been decided by 1 goal.
3: Interesting back-stories on playoff experience:
Nobody in the San Jose dressing room is feeling quite like Evander Kane right now. He has 574 NHL games of experience, but none in the postseason. Less than two months ago, he was on a Buffalo team headed for elimination, but now will get this first chance to chase Stanley. It's the opposite effect for Paul Martin, who has been in the league 14 years and reached the playoffs with 3 different teams, every single campaign. However just weeks ago, it looked like Martin was destined to never play another NHL game for the Sharks. He was sent down to the AHL's Barracuda, with no promise or even implication of a return. However opportunity presented itself during that eight-game win streak, and now he'll likely get the first chance in the playoff lineup.
4: Rickard Rakell is the difference-maker for the Ducks in this postseason
Anaheim's lineup is littered with guys who have a track record for offensive production. Getzlaf. Perry. Kesler. Henrique. But it's Rickard Rakell who had the best (and healthiest) season, by far. The centerman-turned-winger ended 77 games with 34 goals and 68 points. Also, don't sleep on Ondrej Kase, aka the "Energizer Bunny". The 22 year old's sophomore season in the NHL included 20 goals and 18 assists.
5: Special Teams Dilemma for San Jose
It's all AND nothing for the Sharks. Their power play experienced a noticeable decline after the injury to Joe Thornton, including just 16 tallies in the final 36 games. Their lack of advantage with the extra attacker is only overshadowed by the team's success on the Penalty Kill. San Jose allowed just 34 power play goals all season, and finished at an impressive 84.8% on the kill.
If you're looking for a series prediction, you won't get it here.
My advice: Like the struggles of 2009, and success of 2016: Expect the unexpected.