The San Jose Sharks have made the postseason 15 of the last 16 seasons, dating back to 1998. That's an impressive streak, surpassed by only one other team in the National Hockey League (the Detroit Red Wings). But now, the Sharks also hold a pretty ugly distinction as well.
The 2013-14 squad now is one of only four teams in NHL history to blow a 3-0 playoff series lead, and combined with the fact the Sharks have not managed to reach the Stanley Cup Finals even once in the current, 16-season streak of success, it pretty much means they've become the epitome of choke artists in the league.
It's been confirmed now, because there's really little else the Sharks could do to further cement their reputation as a team that just can't win when it matters most:
- In 2002 under head coach Daryl Sutter -- who went on to later win a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 -- the Sharks couldn't win a Game Six at home to clinch a second-round series that would have put them in the conference finals;
- In 2004 under head coach Ron Wilson, the Sharks had home-ice advantage in the Western Conference finals, but they scored just one goal in Games Five and Six combined in losing to the sixth-seeded Edmonton Oilers;
- In 2009 under head coach Todd McLellan, the Sharks won the President's Trophy as the best regular-season team in the whole NHL, but they lost their opening-round playoff contest to the Anaheim Ducks in six games after losing the first two at home;
- In 2010, again under McLellan, the Sharks finished with the best record in the Western Conference, but they were swept in the conference finals by the second-seeded Chicago Blackhawks despite having home ice.
Throw in this historical collapse against the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, and these Sharks just know how to not win. The talent is there, even as the roster has changed plentifully in the last 16 seasons. It doesn't seem to matter who is in goal or who is on the bench running team: San Jose is just soft.
The rest of the league knows it. The fans know it. Everyone knows it, and yet nothing changes in San Jose in terms of on-ice results come late spring and early summer: there's still no Stanley Cup in Silicon Valley, despite one of the most successful regular-season runs in modern NHL history.
What's the answer? If anyone knew, they'd certainly fix the problem. It's not a matter of being too-California, laid-back chill to win, since the Ducks (2007) and the Kings (2012) have both won championships recently. And Los Angeles is certainly more chill than the Bay Area.
It's almost as if the Sharks are cursed, like the San Francisco Giants were from 1955-2009, except this baseball team in question has never even won back-to-back division titles. Heck, San Jose won four straight Pacific Division titles (2008-2011) in this current run of success, but little good it did them to have so many consecutive shots at a title.
What's toughest is asking the fans to come back each year, without producing that elusive championship. The Sharks have become the Atlanta Braves, of sorts, only lacking the one single title that maybe made all the other postseason struggles worth it to a loyal fan base. Heck, San Jose can't even boast its better than the Florida Panthers or the Carolina Hurricanes, and that's pretty sad when it comes down to it. One Cup would satiate the fans here for a generation, if not more.
But for 16 years now, the Sharks have almost always had a chance to win the Cup, and for 16 seasons now, they've come up short, again and again and again, in the most painful ways possible. It'll be a long summer until training camp starts again in October for the San Jose organization, and who knows what changes should be -- or will be? -- made before that time.
All we know here in Silicon Valley is that it's another offseason of, "Wait 'til next year!", and it's starting to really ring hollow.