Sweet Revenge For Road Sharks

TORONTO (Apr. 23) — In the spring of 2012, I had the privilege of covering the greatest road team in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. En route to their first National Hockey League title, the Los Angeles Kings accomplished something altogether new — a feat that I contend will be nearly impossible to match.

As the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, the Kings started all four playoff rounds on the road, and won the first two games of each series — victimizing Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey. A composite 16–4 record in 20 post–season encounters — all of which I attended — put California on the Stanley Cup map for the first time. It was a remarkable and unassailable romp by one of the six expansion teams of 1967. The Kings then repeated as NHL titlist two years later, winning the Cup against the New York Rangers on an overtime goal in Game 6 at the Staples Center by defenseman Alec Martinez.

16-lookback-1edited-B  16-lookback-2edited-X
I TOOK PHOTOS FROM THE PRESS BOX OF THE 2012 STANLEY CUP CHAMPION LOS ANGELES KINGS SHAKING HANDS WITH THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS, ST. LOUIS BLUES, PHOENIX COYOTES AND NEW JERSEY DEVILS. L.A. WENT 10–AND–1 ON THE ROAD IN THE PLAYOFFS THAT SPRING.

16-lookback-3edited-B-C  16-lookback-4edited-B
While motoring toward their second championship, the Kings pulled off another rarity — becoming just the fourth team in Stanley Cup history to win a best–of–seven series after losing the first three games. L.A.’s pawn in the opening–round reversal? San Jose. It was bottom–of–the–barrel for such veteran Sharks as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. Adding to the humiliation was a Game 7 debacle on home ice — the Kings romping, 5–1, at the S–A–P Center. Silence of death accompanied the hand–shake line.

Two years (less than one week) later, and the planets have re–aligned in northern California.

As such, the Stanley Cup dance–rotation between the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks has ended. Many (myself included) figured it was L.A.’s turn to seize the hunger and command of four playoff rounds. As it happened, the boys from So–Cal barely lasted four playoff games. In the fifth, late Friday night, elimination ensued — the ravenous Sharks building a 3–0 lead at Staples Center; having it disappear in the second period, and then crafting another three–spot in the third for a series–clinching, 6–3 victory. Again… the sound of silence in the congratulatory queue; this time, 306 miles to the south. One can practically hear the Dopamine coursing today through the Shark players and staff that endured such misery 24 months ago.

16-joet-B
SAN JOSE CAPTAIN JOE THORNTON IN A TV IMAGE FROM APR. 30, 2014 — MOMENTS AFTER HIS TEAM HAD BLOWN A 3–0 SERIES LEAD TO THE EVENTUAL STANLEY CUP–CHAMPION LOS ANGELES KINGS.

Coincidentally, the Sharks are deploying a strategy that powered Los Angeles to its first Stanley Cup — thorough command while skating on foreign ice. During the regular season, San Jose’s home/road split was rather unique; perhaps even absurd. At the S–A–P Center, the Sharks were a pedestrian 18–20–3 — the lone playoff qualifier with a sub –.500 record. Away from home, San Jose led the league in wins (28) and points (59) with a sparkling 28–10–3 ledger. That phenomenon continued through the opening round of the playoffs, as the Sharks won all three encounters at the Staples Center while splitting their two home games. A best–case scenario, therefore, would see Dallas, Anaheim and either of Chicago or St. Louis advance beyond the opening round; any of Washington, Pittsburgh, the Islanders or Florida become Eastern Conference champion. All of the aforementioned out–pointed San Jose this season and would thus provide the big fish “road–ice” advantage for the remainder of the Stanley Cup tournament.

So, maybe — just maybe — it is the Sharks’ turn.

For years, the club has fared well in the regular season only to disappoint its large and loyal fan–base in the playoffs. Two coaches have paid the price: Ron Wilson and Todd McLellan. Now, Peter DeBoer guides the club… and how sweet it must have been to shake hands with Kings coach Darryl Sutter after Friday night’s clincher. The two men greeted one another on the same patch of ice at Staples Center (June 11, 2012), seconds after the Kings had won their first Stanley Cup. DeBoer was coach of New Jersey, the losing team.

16-staplesedited
MY PHOTO OF THE SCENE AT STAPLES CENTER AFTER LOS ANGELES HAD WON THE 2012 STANLEY CUP.

On a personal note, I’m elated for the fine people I know in the Sharks organization — general manager Doug Wilson; vice–president and assistant GM Wayne Thomas (the Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goalie 40 years ago, in 1975–76); assistant coach Steve Spott, who held the same role here under Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek during last year’s Maple Leafs disaster; radio/TV analyst Jamie Baker, a favorite character of mine while covering the 1996–97 Maple Leafs… and long–time media relations director Scott Emmert — merely one of the best guys I’ve met in the business.

San Jose is a happy place to visit — a clean, vibrant city with a perennially–sound hockey team that encourages family involvement. I’ve always been made to feel right at home in the S–A–P Center press box — save for the time, in 1994, I nearly came to blows with San Francisco Chronicle beat–writer Tony Cooper. A short, ill–tempered man; heavily into body–building, Cooper was seated next to me along press row at the San Jose Arena (as it was originally known) during the 1994 Western Conference semifinal between the Leafs and Sharks. I recall saying something terribly inciting — such as, “Hi Tony, how are you?” Next thing I knew, he was at my throat. I looked up and saw Sharks’ public relations guru Ken Arnold leading a posse of “referees” toward us from the opposite end of the press box. Tony was re–situated for the next game.

Otherwise, it’s been nothing but delight for me in No–Cal.

And, much excitement is ahead for Shark Tank patrons in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament.

SPORTSNET POST–GAME TV IMAGES FROM FRIDAY NIGHT 

FSCN1797edited-X  FSCN1772edited-X
SECONDS AFTER THE FINAL BUZZER AT STAPLES CENTER, MY OLD LEAFS PAL — JAMIE BAKER — READIES TO INTERVIEW JOE PAVELSKI OF THE SHARKS AT ICE LEVEL.

FSCN1776edited-X  FSCN1786edited-X
FORMER LEAFS ASSISTANT COACH STEVE SPOTT GREETS LOS ANGELES GOALIE JONATHAN QUICK DURING THE POST–GAME HANDSHAKE BETWEEN THE SHARKS AND KINGS.

FSCN1782edited-X  FSCN1788edited-X
LOS ANGELES COACH DARRYL SUTTER SHAKES HANDS WITH HIS FORMER NO. 2 GOALIE, MARTIN JONES, NOW THE SAN JOSE STARTER. AND, EVEN THE MOST CASUAL SHARKS FAN HAS TO FEEL GOOD FOR THE HEAVILY–BEARDED ONE — 36–YEAR–OLD VETERAN JOE THORNTON.

JEWISH JOCULARITY: New York Islanders TV voice Howie Rose couldn’t make his family seder on Friday for the first night of Passover. But, he “kept the faith” from afar, while calling Game 5 of the opening–round playoff series between the Islanders and Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. Early in double–overtime, Howie told viewers: “This is the third–longest game in Islanders history. From the Easter Epic [in 1987] to Passover Pressure. And, here are your Four Questions: Which team is going to win? Who’s going to get the goal? What time is it going to be? And, who’s going to be left standing?” Jewish people gather for a family meal (seder) on the first two nights of Passover, which commemorates the ancient liberation from slavery in Egypt.

As part of the table–side ceremony, four questions are chanted from the prayer book (or Haggadah): “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat leavened products and matzah. Why on this night only matzah? On all other nights, we eat all vegetables. Why, on this night, bitter herbs (maror)? On all other nights, we eat either sitting upright or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?” Credit to Rose for originality in Jewish broadcasting. As it were, it became the second–longest Islanders playoff game — rookie Alan Quine scoring at 16:00 of the second extra period to give New York a 2–1 win and a 3–2 lead in the best–of–seven series. Islanders can complete the first–round upset tomorrow in Brooklyn.

For those unaware, the Easter Epic was Game 7 of the Islanders–Capitals division semifinal on Apr. 18, 1987 at the old Capital Center in Landover, Md. — won on a spin–around shot by New York’s Pat LaFontaine at 8:47 of the fourth extra frame. At the time, it was the fifth–longest playoff match ever… and longest in the history of television. Today, it ranks tenth in length of time.

16-rose-2edited
NEW YORK ISLANDERS TV CREW OF HOWIE ROSE (LEFT) AND BUTCH GORING.

REMEMBERING STEVE

There was an interesting item in the Saturday Toronto Star memorial section:

RSCN1807edited-X
Hard to believe it’s been a decade since Mr. Stavro passed away.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.