The Stanley Cup playoffs are always good for bringing intensity, surprises and fantastic storylines, and things are no different this year. With at least two matchups on each side of the bracket between division rivals, we’re starting to see a lot of the same teams playing each other early on in the playoffs. This leads to bad blood between players and fans alike and, of course, trends. This year, however, storylines that certain teams have been haunted by for the last few years are changing.
One storyline that comes to mind is the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. These two Pacific Division teams haven’t liked each other for obvious reasons, but that hatred only intensified in 2012. While San Jose was a staple of consistency in the Western Conference playoff picture since 2002, Los Angeles was a young fifth seed that was just beginning to hit its stride. In the 2012-2013 playoffs the two teams met in the Western Conference Semifinals, a series in which the home team won every game and the Kings defeated the Sharks in L.A. in Game 7, 2-1. That was only the beginning, as the two would meet again in 2013-14 as the second and third best teams in the Pacific in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. In this series, the Sharks took a commanding three-game-to-none lead, only to lose the next four straight to the Kings, who then went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Kings have been a thorn in the Sharks’ side for the last few years, and that was all anyone could talk about heading into their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup this season. Even after the Sharks won the first two games in L.A., some doubted they would put the Kings away due to their previous history. Everyone thought it was only a matter of time before the Kings started to get their legs under them and start their dominance of the Sharks because that is what we’re used to. Once the Sharks dropped Game 3 at home, everyone thought that was the beginning of the end. Then the Sharks won Game 4, and fans started to feel differently about this Sharks team then their previous teams. Maybe this one had what it took to knock off the Kings, but that doubt crept in again when they blew a 3-0 lead in Game 5. What happened next was: well, L.A. Kings-like – the Sharks scored three goals in the third, silencing the haters. More importantly the Sharks, in five games, advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2012-13, when they were eliminated by these same Kings.
I was one of those doubters this season. I took the Sharks for granted, saying they would inevitably lose to the Kings even if they grabbed a big lead in the series. I never imagined that they would even be competitive in a series against Los Angeles. They proved me and a lot of other people wrong, reminding me of a very important lesson: there are no guarantees in the Stanley Cup playoffs.