“I would say the organization’s past, not this team’s past,” said Sharks coach Todd McLella, “because this team is not the same team that laced ’em up last year,” quotes the Merc when asking about the team’s last four years of Playoff past history.
Why does a franchise that performs so well in the regular season have so many problems in the playoffs? And why should this year be any different?
This week, it’s not just the media trying to tie the Sharks’ playoff past to its future.
“Having the team they’ve had for the last four or five years and not going very far in the playoffs, I think we can use that to our advantage,” Colorado veteran Milan Hejduk told the Denver Post. Added Avalanche coach Joe Sacco: “I think they had higher expectations than what they’ve achieved. And it’s going to be our job this year to try to make sure that happens again.”
Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray didn’t take the bait Monday. “I just laugh,” Murray said. “Let them use whatever they can use, and we’re going to use whatever we can use.”
The Sharks’ reputation as playoff underachievers grew after Edmonton and Detroit came from behind to win the Western Conference semifinals in 2006 and 2007. The following year, the lower-seeded Dallas Stars ousted the Sharks in the second round. Last season, however, was the most embarrassing as San Jose won the Presidents’ Trophy only to be eliminated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks.
Since then, the Sharks are quick to point out, things have changed. For one thing, 11 players from the roster that lost to Anaheim are gone. The biggest acquisition since then has been Dany Heatley, a sniper to complement Joe Thornton. Heatley scored 39 goals this season.
“Heater was brought in to help this team move forward, and I think he can take some pressure off other players,” McLellan said. “He’s been to the Stanley Cup finals, he’s won championships, he competes nightly. And he’ll go to the net.” General manager Doug Wilson also brought in veterans such as Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer for the third and fourth lines. Young players such as Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn and Jason Demers progressed as planned. Veteran defenseman Niclas Wallin was added at the trade deadline.
Overall, McLellan sees his team as “maybe a little more abrasive and grittier” than it was a year ago, more willing to battle on the boards or in front of the net. “Those are all elements of the game that were addressed roster-wise, system-wise, coaching-wise and then within the locker room,” he said. “The players held each other accountable in those areas probably stronger this year than they did last year.”