From The Archives: Sharks Top Playoff Moments

From The Archives: Sharks Top Playoff Moments

This From The Archives feature story is about the top Playoff moments from the Sharks first 25 years. This article appeared in Sharks Magazine during the team’s 25th Anniversary season. Now that the Sharks are celebrating their 30th Anniversary, what would you add to this list as your top Playoff moments from the last 5 years?

By Mark Purdy

Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the start of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, before ultimately experiencing another Major Playoff Moment in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights

The calendar changes. So does SAP Center. In the spring, the playoffs begin. In the spring, the Shark Tank feels different. The noise is different. The energy is different. The building even smells a little different, according to Patrick Marleau.

He should know. Marleau has accumulated the most playoff minutes of any human being at the Shark Tank, appearing in 88 games between 1998 and 2017. Joe Thornton is next on the SAP playoff honor roll with 63 games, followed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (62) and Joe Pavelski (61).

All of them have SAP history. But clearly, because of Marleau’s more vast experience, he is the foremost authority on SAP building odors, even if he now works in Toronto. And Marleau claims that there’s something distinctive in the air at the Tank as the weather turns warm, due to the internal air filtration process or the icemaking formula or something else.

“I don’t know how to describe it, exactly,” Marleau said in a telephone interview about the odor. “But I can tell the difference.”

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SAN JOSE, CA – JUNE 04: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks walks on to the ice prior to Game Three of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center on June 4, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

An intense and gloriously emotional difference, for sure.
As SAP Center concludes its 25th anniversary celebration, can we all agree on one thing? The best and greatest and most agonizing and most frustrating months of those 25 years have occurred in the springtime. Those are the Shark playoff months. Those are the months that carry the richest memories of Shark hockey, from all angles.

If it’s April, it must be Johan Garpenlov. If it’s May, it must be Marcel Goc. Or Raffi Torres. Or Joel Ward. These are among the unlikely Shark playoff heroes who have scored game-winning goals in the building at the most crucial time of year.

Mostly, though, the Sharks’ playoff memories start with the Tank atmosphere – not just for the players, but for the coaches and fans and ushers and Zamboni drivers and anyone else on the premises.

“There’s just that sense of urgency and desperation all around you,” said Pavelski. “You feel for the fans, you want to win and play your best hockey. You really feel united with the city for the playoffs and I think that’s something special for the players.”

“I think we have the best fans in the league and this building has been an intimidating place to play because of the fans and the environment,” said Shark coach Pete DeBoer. “I saw it firsthand standing behind the bench in the Stanley Cup run in 2016 and other big games during that stretch. The night we beat St. Louis to win the conference and go to the Final for the first time, I thought the building was just electric that night.”

There are times when the electricity is so full of amps, the Shark players might find themselves revved up too much. That’s not a problem for DeBoer.

“For me, the energy it provides far outweighs the negativity of them being a little overzealous,” he said. “We’ll take that type of juice any day, especially in a long playoff run where you’re tired, fatigued and injured, it’s a huge advantage . . . You listen to the other team, postgame, it’s always about trying to survive the first 10 minutes in here. It’s a great reputation to have. It’s on us to carry on that tradition of those quick starts.”

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 02: Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks attempts a wrap around shot on goaltender Marty Turco #35, Toby Petersen #17 and Steve Ott #29 of the Dallas Stars during game five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 2, 2008 in San Jose, California. The Sharks defeated the Stars 3-2 in overtime to set the series at 3-2 Stars. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Players from opposing teams have their own testimonies. Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues was a Colorado Avalanche rookie when he experienced his first-ever NHL playoff series in 2010 at SAP Center, enduring a six-game series loss to the Sharks.

“It’s an extremely tough building to play in,” O’Reilly said a few months ago during All-Star weekend in San Jose. “Being my first time in the playoffs, I didn’t know what to expect – but coming here and seeing the way it was . . .

I remember how loud it was. I could barely hear myself think. I was blown away. It’s an area that you don’t know a lot about, being from Canada, but you come and you see a city that rallies behind the Sharks. It’s great for the sport. It’s an exciting place to come play hockey.”

“It’s a cool building,” says Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers centerman from Germany. “You wouldn’t think it’s a hockey town, San Jose. But it’s definitely a Sharks town. Everyone knows when you come to San Jose, those first 10 minutes are always tough. I remember our series against them in 2017, in Game 4 they beat us 7-0. They scored seven goals and I thought they might have gotten 15.”

The noise is a major contributor to the SAP mystique. The building’s low ceiling and seating angles focus the crowd sound onto the ice. Over the years, regular season crowds have become more nonchalant and less rowdy at the Tank. But when the home team skates through the Shark head before a playoff game, the old roar returns.

“The first 10 minutes, you want to get the crowd on your side,” said Vlasic. “If you do that, you can have them with you throughout the whole game. The other team wants to silence them. But if we enough to keep them on our side, they’ll stay that way the whole game.”

Stephane Yelle can vouch for that. He is the non-Shark with the most postseason appearances at SAP. Between 1999 and his retirement in 2010, Yelle skated in 16 playoff games at the Tank for the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche.

Yelle, reached at his current home in Arizona, was mildly surprised to learn of his historic status — but said he has mostly fun memories of those games. He would usually walk to the arena from the team’s downtown San Jose hotel and soak up the vibes from teal-wearing fans, knowing that he would be in for some rugged shifts that night.

“It was a tough rink, with everybody so close to the ice,” Yelle said. “I always felt as if the place was closing in me. Everything was tight. Crappy visiting dressing rooms, too, although I guess they’ve improved since I left the NHL. I also remember usually getting matched up against Owen Nolan or Vincent Damphousse or Joe Thornton, which was always a long night. I chased Patrick Marleau around a lot, too.”

Yelle, however, does have one specific happy memory. It happened one evening in May of 2004 when he and his Flames teammates opened the Western Conference Finals in San Jose with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1.

SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 22: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks skates on to the ice for their game against the Edmonton Oilers during Game Six of the Western Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 22, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“Steve Montador scored the goal,” Yelle said. “And then we went on to win the series, right?”

Right. That was not a happy Shark playoff moment. There have been many happy ones, however, along with the agonizing ones. It is part of the playoffs’ charm and horror. Wild mood swings come along with every win and every defeat. And no home arena in the NHL has experienced more of those swings over the past 25 years.

As we enter the 2019 postseason, 38 playoff series have been contested in the building. The Sharks have won 18 of them. Entering this postseason, they have taken the ice for 109 playoff games at SAP – more games than any other current NHL building has hosted over the past 25 years. (Caveat: Detroit and Pittsburgh have both moved into new arenas during those 25 years, so neither their old or new buildings can match SAP’s number.)

The Sharks own a 62-47 win-loss record in those 109 playoff games at The Tank. And here’s a fact few realize: During the first 25 years of any NHL building’s existence, going back more than a century, only the old Boston Gardens and Maple Leaf Gardens hosted more playoff series than SAP. And that’s largely because when those two buildings were constructed in the Original Six era, four of the six teams made the playoffs.

In an era when it’s more difficult to qualify for the postseason, the Sharks managed to do so 20 times in their first 25 years. The franchise storyline is one of triumph and frustration, of a team that’s been so good that it has more playoff victories over the past quarter century than just about any other team – but also more playoff losses than just about any other team.
This prolific amount of games has created more than a few vivid moments.

“One would be the night we clinched the Western Conference in 2016, against St. Louis,” Pavelski said. “I remember scoring the first goal off a pass from Jumbo (Thornton) on a breakaway. I remember Wardo (Joel Ward) had a big night with two goals. But the biggest thing I remember about that was . . . there was just a sense we were all going to have our best game.”

The fervent release of emotions that night, when fans realized the Sharks really were going to make their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, will never be matched – at least until the beloved Los Tiburones do win the ultimate hockey trophy. They’ve never come closer than in 2016 and that series loss to Pittsburgh.

Yet there have been plenty of exceptionally happy snapshots since the initial playoff faceoff in San Jose, which took place in April of 1994, a mere seven months after the arena’s opening.

The Sharks lost that first-ever home playoff game to Detroit, 3-2, then snapped back to win the series in stunning fashion over the top-seeded Red Wings. The lasting image of those games was of underdog San Jose goalie Arturs Irbe fulfilling his promise to “be like wall” against an onslaught of Detroit skaters.

What other moments stand out? So many.
You could point to the winning overtime goal of Joonas Donskoi in Game 3 of that 2016 Final against Pittsburgh, which had the SAP ceiling rattling from the crowd noise.

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 25: Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring in Game Six of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 25, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Or you could point to the wait-did-he-really-do-that goal in Game 2 of the 2004 conference semifinals when Jonathan Cheechoo stuck his stick between his legs and banged in a trailing puck against Colorado to polish off a 4-1 victory.

Or to the three hat tricks that Marleau posted in Shark home playoff games.
Or to Pavelski’s wraparound overtime goal against Dallas in Game 5 of the 2008 Western Conference Final.
Or to Tomas Hertl’s winning goal in the Game 4 clinch of a sweep against Anaheim just last spring.
Or to a personal favorite: The decisive Game 7 of the 2016 conference semifinals against the Nashville Predators, which the Sharks won in a 5-0 blowout, causing Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to be pulled in mid-game. An infuriated Rinne took out his anger by smashing his goalie stick across the crossbar into a shredded twig of lumber, then throwing the whole thing toward the sideboards where it was kicked off the ice surface . . . and suddenly disappeared.

In fact, multiple fans in San Jose claim to own Rinne’s shattered stick. He was good-natured recently when asked if he knew what happened to the lumber (“I have no clue”) and whether any Shark fans had ever brought it to him for a signature on one of his return trips to San Jose (“No, they haven’t”). But he acknowledged that the SAP mojo was a factor for the Sharks.

“They had the home ice advantage,” Rinne said. “And they used it to their benefit.”

For the Sharks, the most depressing SAP night of those 25 years was no doubt, was on April 30, 2014, when the Los Angeles Kings completed a comeback from 3-0 series deficit to win their fourth straight game and end the Sharks’ season in despair and embarrassment.

All in perspective, however. In 1999, the first two games of a series against the Avalanche were moved from Denver to San Jose because of the Columbine school shootings. This lent a more-restrained-than-usual ambience to those games, with a large banner unfurled on Autumn St. outside the main entrance for Shark fans to sign and express their condolences to those back in Colorado. Shark players then carried the banner to Columbine before Game 3 to hang it on a fence across from the school.

Yet the most bizarre off-ice SAP playoff story occurred in 2004 when the Sharks eliminated the St. Louis Blues to win a first round series—and shortly after the decisive game, Blues centerman Mike Danton was arrested outside the SAP doors by local authorities for alleged participation in a Missouri murder-for-hire plot. Danton spent more than a week in the Santa Clara County jail until his extradition back to St. Louis, where he pled guilty to the charges and went to prison for five years.

Looking ahead for the Sharks, the mission will be the same as always: To win every game at SAP en route to winning the last game of the playoffs, followed by a trophy ceremony, ideally on home ice. How would that smell? Good. Very good.

SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 15: Mark Smith #16 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates scoring a goal against Chris Osgood #30 of the St. Louis Blues during game 5 of the West Quarterfinals of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15, 2004 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

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