The San Jose Sharks won the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night, defeating the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in their best-of-seven series. The victory sends the Sharks through to the Stanley Cup Finals where they now await the winner of the Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay Lightning series. The Eastern Conference Finals will wrap up on Thursday night as those two teams prepare for a decisive Game 7.
For the Sharks, the franchise really has delivered for their fan base, one that had to be frustrated with playoff flops over the years. A couple seasons ago the Sharks lost a first-round series to the Los Angeles Kings after holding a 3 game to 0 lead. It truly was nothing but an insult to injury for the Sharks’ fan base. The year before that they also lost to the Kings in a seven-game series in the second round. Looking back further, since the 2001/02 season the Sharks had finished first in the Pacific six times only to suffer a defeat ahead of the Stanley Cup Finals. They truly were one of the noted underachievers in the league even as other California-based franchises prospered in the NHL playoffs.
But heading into the series, the Western Conference Finals appeared to be double-edged regardless of who won. After all, both teams were noted playoff underachievers as the St. Louis Blues, entering the series, had never won the Western Conference either. After surviving a draw of death through the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars, it has to be particularly bitter for the Blues to lose to San Jose – an inferior team from the regular season. The Blues also had home-ice advantage in the series, meaning they would have hosted Game 7 if they had been able to force it.
When it comes to individual winners, this year’s conference championship truly is a feather in the cap for head coach Peter Deboer of San Jose. He was named the head coach of the Sharks almost a year ago to the week. It was certainly a tricky spot to be in given the history of regular-season success and postseason failures. However, he will definitely be finding favor in San Jose, even if the Sharks are to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Ken Hitchcock, the head coach of the Blues, isn’t a major loser on this post-season. He already has a Stanley Cup to his credit so no one can say that he can’t do it. Furthermore, the Blues were a franchise merely looking for some kind of post-season success entering the season. In eliminating Chicago and Dallas, Hitchcock brought NHL post-season excitement back to a city that had been without it for years now.
For an individual loser when it comes to the Blues/Sharks outcome, I think you can actually look over to Edmonton, Alberta. Todd McLellan is the head coach up there right now, a coach that served long term in San Jose between 2008 to 2015. It doesn’t make him look good at all that the season he gets replaced in San Jose is the one where the team achieves new heights.
When McLellan and the Sharks mutually parted ways, Doug Wilson, the GM of San Jose, had this to say:
“I want to thank Todd and his staff for their years of service to the San Jose Sharks organization. Sometimes a change is best for all parties involved, but nothing will take away from what Todd and his staff accomplished here over the last seven seasons.”
I think the Sharks making the Stanley Cup Finals immediately after McLellan leaves does “take away from what Todd and his staff accomplished” between 2008 and 2015. If McLellan doesn’t do something with the Edmonton situation, then his stock as a coach promises to plummet.
The 2016 Stanley Cup Finals start on Monday with the entire series schedule below:
2016 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
(all start times 8 p.m., ET)
Game 1 – Monday, May 30th
Game 2 – Wednesday, June 1st
Game 3 – Saturday, June 4th
Game 4 – Monday, June 6th
Game 5* – Thursday, June 9th
Game 6* – Sunday, June 12th
Game 7* – Wednesday, June 15th