By Emily Van Buskirk & Kaleigh Krish
Let us preface this article by saying three things:
One: We live in the Bay Area.
Two: We are not biased against East Coast hockey because of our geographical location…
Three: …Because playoff hockey > NBA Finals, Super Bowls, World Series, Coachella, etc.
With playoff hockey, you get all the good drama of playoff basketball, the hard hits from championship football, the human-interest stories from playoff baseball and a festival worthy light show/music performance. It’s the best of all the worlds.
And the San Jose Sharks taking on the Las Vegas Golden Knights is going to be the best playoff hockey of all the playoff hockey. It will ultimately come down to who can shake off the dust first – the Knights will be playing their first game in nine days, the Sharks their first in eight.
It begins tonight. Here are a few reasons you should tune it and turn up.
The Gainful Goaltenders
While the other antics of this series will surely be entertaining, the real battle begins and ends with the two guarding the net.
In the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Martin Jones led in games (24), minutes (1,473) and shutouts (3) – that’s good right? This year Jonesy already has fans wondering “how does he do it?” So far, the goaltender is 4-0 in the opening series (obviously) with a 1.00 goals-against average, a .970 save percentage and one shutout. That’s good, like really good.
The only netminder better in the 2018 playoffs than Jones – his newest opponent, Marc-Andre Fleury. In their sweep against the Kings, the Golden Knights posted two shutouts in four starts with a 0.65 goals-against average and a .977 save percentage. Let us also remember that this isn’t Fleury’s first rodeo, he is a three time Stanley Cup winner. That experience will come in handy, as this series will likely go the distance.
The Weighted West Coast Rivalry
Usually when you talk West Coast and rivalries is has to do with the lesser coast to the East or even the NorCal vs. SoCal animosity that is hella real. But in playoff hockey, the new Knights on the block have ignited rivalries with basically everyone in the wild wild West. Both the Sharks and the Knights are coming off four-game sweeps in the opening round – Las Vegas took down the L.A. Kings and San Jose rolled the Anaheim Ducks. So they have a mutual slaughtering of SoCal in common.
These two teams met four times during the regular season with the Knights going 3-0-1. The Knights may have won more games but the Sharks won on March 22 in overtime – gutsy. And each time, the margin of victory for either team was just one goal. Las Vegas is the favorite, which is fine because Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer likes it that way.
The Power Play Will Be Lit
Special teams in hockey isn’t like special teams in football – it’s more nuanced and absolutely more important. And with Las Vegas boasting a playoff-leading 92.3 power kill percentage the Sharks unit of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Kevin Labanc and Tomas Hertle will have their work cut out for them. San Jose won’t be seeing an average of five power play chances per game like they did against Anaheim, especially against such a disciplined Las Vegas squad.
The Sharks killed 83.3 percent against the Ducks, tying the Lightening for fifth in the playoffs. This is an advantage for San Jose as the Knights struggled to score against the Kings power play kill unit.
The Contrasting Coaches
It seems with both of these teams waiting the long haul to get round two of the playoffs going, each coach played their own, different version of the waiting game. For Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, it was about R&R, and I mean how could you not, you live in Vegas.
After giving the LA Kings the broom, Gallant gave his team and unbelievable two days off (It might sound ridiculous but that is a lifetime in hockey). And amongst the family BBQ’s and golf tournaments, the Knights have gotten a well-deserved mini-vacation. So although Gallant looks terrifying behind the bench, I honestly think he might be a guy we could hang with.
San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer on the other hand has a tighter leash on his team. The Sharks have simulated game-like workloads since their sweep against the Anaheim ducks last week. And in Silicon Valley, you do that with technology. Hooking up players during practice to make sure they aren’t just going through the motions is pretty badass… which makes me fear DeBoer even more. We get the chance to see which style will prevail and the slacker in me is hoping the Golden Knights win out in this case.
The Electric Atmosphere
Vegas is 31-10-2 at home but will be facing a veteran San Jose squad that is 22-14-7 on the road – the Sharks outscored the Ducks 6-2 in their two wins in Anaheim. Tonight, the Sharks won’t just be dealing with the Knight’s speed, depth and super goalie skills – they have the glitzy T-Mobile Arena to contest with as well. Las Vegas ranked 17th in home attendance but they averaged 18,042 (103.9 percent of capacity) which was fourth-best in the league. Music, live Las Vegas entertainment, wedding ceremonies – it’s all fair game at T-Mobile. Even DeBoer felt it the first time the Sharks played there.
“I made the mistake of walking from the hotel to the rink and I won’t make that mistake again,” DeBoer told the Mercury News. “I went through a mob of a crowd that had probably started drinking for four or five hours earlier and I took a lot of heckling. It was awesome.”
Bonus Reason: Sharks Victory Playoff Song
One more reason to root for a solid series, particularly for the team in teal – the Sharks victory song. The post game locker room jam, a 1986 2 Live Crew hit, started during the series with the Ducks and has blossomed into a serious power ballad. Want to know the name of the song or more importantly who suggested it? Well make sure to check out our latest podcast to hear the surprising answer to that burning playoff hockey question. Or tweet at us! But without a follow or a mention, we can’t help you. So get to clicking. Or listening. Either way.
Prediction: Sharks in 7. Feel free to @ us.