There is so much more on the line for the San Jose Sharks than advancing to the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs Wednesday, April 30. A loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division semifinals would move them from playoff underachievers to historic chokers.
Only three other teams in NHL history ever lost a series after having a 3-0 series lead. The last one (the Boston Bruins) did recover to win the Stanley Cup the next season, but had not already squandered so many opportunities as San Jose.
On the other hand, the number of opportunities comes because of the consistent quality of play. In fact, a win means the Sharks have reached the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in eight of the last 10 seasons—most in the NHL. They would also have a second series win in three against the Pacific Division rival Kings.
The biggest thing is San Jose would have a chance to shake the underachiever label and become a champion in the same postseason, like the Boston Red Sox did in 2004. The question is whether the players have finally learned they must not get complacent.
It has been taught to the Sharks many times, and the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs seemed to show progress. It turns out their "closing ability" in the first round was more a manifestation of a dying era for their foe than their own doing.
Only three people are constants with this team since 2005, when general manager Doug Wilson united the star he inherited (Patrick Marleau) with the only player taken ahead of him in the 1997 NHL draft (Joe Thornton). All but one year of that time has been spent with one of the two players as San Jose's captain.
Their leadership has not yielded results. The Sharks have made it to three Western Conference finals, but have just three total wins in that round. They have only once actually been the best team out west (twice as top seed), but have failed to even ably contend for a Stanley Cup finals appearance.
Much of this is due to an apparent lack of urgency when they lead a game or a series. Their worst period in the 2013-14 NHL season was the third. They have lost a pivotal Game 5 six straight times.
San Jose could have closed a series in the first one and survived the next two. Last year was a missed opportunity to host the Western Conference semifinal series-clinching game against Los Angeles and this year it would have meant closing the Pacific Division semifinals.
It all has to come back to the constants. If Wilson is the problem, the next general manager is stuck with his players anyway. The solution lies with the people he has hitched himself to.
Both cornerstone players have been the leaders on a team that continues to come up short. Even though Marleau and Thornton are both under contract for the next three years, each turns 35 before next season and they are running out of chances to escape sinking deeper into the quicksand of playoff failure.
NHL.com correspondent Eric Gilmore talked about San Jose's confidence going into the game Tuesday, and this is a loose bunch. That same personality that lends to complacency also lends to calm when things are at their worst.
Now that the Sharks have played poorly in six of nine periods since taking the 3-0 lead, being concerned about it will only lead to gripping sticks. Jonathan Quick is hard enough to beat without that burden.
The players defining San Jose's last nine Stanley Cup playoff runs both have a chance to play a vital role in Examiner.com's three keys to victory...