The San Jose Sharks have forged a reputation over the decades of always being invited to the party and always having to leave by 10:30, either because that’s when their ride is leaving or they have to relieve the babysitter or they have to work in the morning and need their eight hours because they have a quarterly report to finish.
Not this year, though. This is the year the host seems hell-bent on making them stay to the end of the evening, and will ply them with the best food and liquor to make sure they don’t leave. After 27 years of “Anyone know where my jacket is?” the Sharks are being asked to stay all night.
Wednesday night, Timo Meier’s obvious hand pass to Gus Nyquist and Nyquist’s subsequent legal pass to Erik Karlsson created the overtime goal in San Jose’s 5-4 victory over St. Louis in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. It was another embarrassingly bad call from the beleaguered officials, who could not use replay as their familiar bail-out because the rules don’t allow it, and the Sharks stole another win they really didn’t have coming.
They’d already been gifted advancement from the first round with the infamous Cody Eakin major penalty that turned the Vegas Golden Knights from easy 3-0 winners to outraged 5-4 overtime losers, a call that fueled San Jose’s four power play goals and prompted an apology from the league office to the aggrieved Vegii. They’d also benefited from an exceedingly narrow offside ruling in Game 7 of the second round series with Colorado that negated Colin Wilson’s apparent game-tying goal and protected San Jose’s 2-1 victory. It wasn’t deemed apology-worthy, but it was hinky enough to cause increased consternation among the league-can’t-get-it-right crowd—which is now the size of an angry mob.
And now there is the Meier call, painfully obvious before it advanced to just plain painful. The Sharks are now 3-0 against The Man (well, 3-1 if you want to quibble about an icing call early in the Avalanche series that Marc-Edouard Vlasic thought warranted a second apology), and people are starting to notice, in that tinfoil-hat way of theirs.
Is head coach Peter DeBoer a warlock? Is general manager Doug Wilson a shape-shifter? Is team owner Hasso Plattner (the third-richest owner in North American sports) cashing in a debt from Gary Bettman? Is Joe Thornton Moses, Gandalf, or just a John Brown impersonator? Mostly, when did the Sharks become the world’s luckiest team, and if so, why them?
To be reasonable about this, the Eakin hit on Joe Pavelski (who frankly is another Joe the Sharks should be trying to win this title for) was at best a two-minute minor, but nobody asked the Knights’ penalty killers to go on a wildcat strike in response. The offside call on Gabriel Landeskog was thin and inconsistent with normal line-changing practices but technically correct to the point where The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz spun an off-day feature on the Sharks’ video tattletale out of it. And the Meier pass seemingly caused the Blues to stop to wait for TWTNC—The Whistle That Never Came. By the rules of Darwinian sport, it ain’t illegal until the cops say it is. Plus, we are sure the Sharks have historical tales of officiating misfeasance to prove their own version of the Law of Big Numbers, or as it is also known, The Book Of What About The Times When We Got Screwed?
So let’s rule out the DeBoer and Plattner storylines, since I just made them up to begin with, although I’m not sure we have ever seen Wilson and Doctor Strange in the same place at the same time. Somehow the Sharks, that typically talented but inoffensive team whose main superpower has historically been the ability to disappoint, have suddenly been favored by fate, and if they can’t get a parade this year, it’s hard to see how many more beneficial calls they would need to get one.
There is, though, a pretty safe assumption to make out of all this: The Blues have been taught the valuable lesson about never stopping until they hear two whistles—one to stop the play and one so that they can make sure they heard the first whistle. And we all know what kind of ill-mannered fun comes from that.
It must be mentioned that runs of improbable luck are not unusual in the Stanley Cup playoffs; nobody has ever held the Cup without having a few horseshoes in his equipment. And if this is going to be a competition-long run of cheery happenstance for the Thornton Crusade and they benefit from a swindle of the Bruins to match or even exceed those that victimized the Knights, Avs, and Blues, well, would that be entirely bad?
In all, we are now getting a new image of the Sharks to go with their last 20 dejected handshake lines. They are now the collective embodiment of the gambler who is getting help from the folks who run the casino. There’s no telling how long this run will last, but people are noticing and are starting to gather around the table to see what all the ruckus is about.
And because hockey is hockey, that is usually the time when the luck starts to run bad.
Ray Ratto misses Kerry Fraser, though it’s probably just the hair.