San Jose defeated Los Angeles on Friday night, 6-3, to advance to the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
LOS ANGELES - Resiliency.
For four of five games, the San Jose Sharks had it.
For all five games, it was backed by extended displays of dominance.
And for the first time in three tries, the Sharks got past the rival Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs. How they got there, though, was the resiliency to push back.
What San Jose accomplished in defeating the Kings wasn’t shocking. For those who paid close attention to the team’s meteoric rise during the second half of the regular season, it was a continuation of months of dominance that began with Logan Couture’s return from injury. With their second-line center and top penalty killer back in the fold, Head Coach Peter DeBoer stopped shuffling lines and started pushing them, getting names like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi on the tongues of national analysts.
Joe Thornton, in his first season without the captaincy, was slumping in late December along with the Sharks record. Then DeBoer suggested Thornton replace his hockey-first mentality outside of the rink with family time and hobbies. The result? An MVP-worthy second-half output. After the change in approach, Thornton went on a tear that saw him outpace practically everyone in the league on the stats sheet, and even more noticeably saw an improvement on defense that could not be ignored. To see Thornton, the mighty Jumbo Joe, use his powerful strides to routinely chase down puck carriers 15-years younger, then set up goal after goal after goal, was a reminder that the former No. 1 overall pick was still one of the league’s best talents.
Then there was the goal song. Hockey is a momentum sport, and its low-scoring nature means goals should theoretically provide a large boost in momentum, especially at home in front of an active fanbase.
The problem in San Jose was that their goal song was a revolving mess for several seasons after the team wanted to distance itself from Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Pt. 2.” Fans complained, management ignored, the team produced one of the league’s worst home records, despite also sporting one of the league’s best home records.
Finally, in March, the team held a fan vote and got one that was easy to cheer with and kept fans loud through the following shift. For an arena that was for years considered the toughest place for visiting teams to visit, this was critical. Seems like a no-brainer, but it helps when fans are loud during and after a goal.
Fixing the ice conditions at SAP Center played another huge step in San Jose becoming the team that just beat down the nationally-favored Kings. Traditionally, ownership waits until late April or May to install a dehumidifier in the building. This season, however, the Bay Area’s weather was so poor for hockey that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Couture publicly called it “bad” and “garbage.” For a team as skilled as the Sharks, having faster, clean ice for its premier talents would make all the difference in the world, rather than play into a heavy, collapsing team’s (read: LA) hands.
New ice, new song: Improved home record. San Jose went 1-1 at home against the Kings, but they didn’t go 0-2 heading back to LA. What more, they didn’t get dominated or out-coached at home, instead controlling play for large chunks of time.
With killer instinct, San Jose finished the deed on the road in Game Five, 6-3, resiliently powering through a three-goal LA comeback with three straight unanswered goals of their own.
Powering through injury, mindset, ice conditions or goal songs, San Jose’s resiliency has them prepared to face Anaheim or Nashville in the second round.