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Amazing season, uncertain future
Looking back and looking forward to unknown waters
5/20/04 - By Erik Kuhre

First things first, no one had this team picked higher than 8th in the conference according to the "experts" coming into the season. Some prognosticators had them 14th in the conference which was where the team was after the first month of the season. But a players only meeting after a horrible loss to lowly Carolina proved to be a turning point. Players hashed out problems and since that time, they were the best team in the NHL. Time and time again, Team Teal started believing and so did the fans.

On March 31st the team hit the ice vs. Los Angeles as Pacific Division Champions. It was also on April 4th where this team showed that it was poised to make a deep run. After Brad Stuart scored with 17.2 seconds left, he scored again with 2.8 left in regulation to tie the Kings at 3-3. This was a game where it meant nothing to either team, but when Vincent Damphousse scored with 1:50 left in overtime, everyone went nuts. Fans honking horns after the game knowing that this postseason might be different than others.

Every round the experts picked San Jose's opponent to upset the second seeded Sharks. Team Teal was on a mission to prove them wrong. It all started April 8th, Game 1 Western Quarterfinals vs. St. Louis. Scoring chances left and right along with a Sharks power play late in regulation couldn't break the walls that Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and Blues goalie (and former Team Teal playoff victim) Chris Osgood, built in front of the net. Until...Niko Dimitakos scored with a sweet toe drag that even Osgood complimented after the game on. The momentum kept going the Sharks way, and as San Jose finished off the Blues in Game 5, you knew it wasn't going be easy to get to the Cup.

Next came the Colorado Avalanche. The team, that twice before, pushed the Sharks out of the playoffs. This time it was the Sharks that shocked the hockey world with a 3-0 lead and a chance to shock the hockey world who likely picked the Avs to sweep. Two mistakes by defensive breakdowns costed the team rest, but ended up getting through to their first series win in the Conference Semifinals in team history.

You know what happens next. Conference Finals: Calgary vs. San Jose. Many picked the Sharks to bury the low Canadian team. But a line change in overtime changed the series and the luck of the San Jose Sharks. It might be considered the worst line change in NHL history and might replace Johan Garpenlov's post shot in 1994 as the most gut wrenching moment in team history. While San Jose was able to tie the series, the team was out of gas and in particular the defense core. The defense, still learning the NHL let alone the playoffs, just fell apart and led to many odd man breaks which Calgary took advantage of over and over again. Calgary won in six games leaving the Sharks to go home and ponder the opportunity they might have squandered.

Yes, it was an amazing season. A season where guys came together and worked as a team. Each player, regardless of their skill level made a mark on this team. The result? Coming within six wins of winning the greatest trophy in all of sports. Then again, it was against Calgary. It was against former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter, who in his tenure got the team only a win away from the Conference Finals. It was against, Evgeni Nabokov's backup, Miikka Kiprusoff, a goalie who was given numerous chances to be the #1 netminder in San Jose when Nabokov was out with a contract dispute or injury. Now it was Kiprusoff and Sutter going to the Stanley Cup Finals without San Jose. The bit of salt thrown into an open wound that won't heal for quite a while.

That is now the question everyone is asking. What happens now? A number of players have contracts up including Nabokov. Rumors are already circulating that Vincent Damphousse may leave. If General Manager Doug Wilson had a tough time getting this team together for 2003-04, he has a daunting challenge to get players ready for 2004-05. The labor dispute is another problem. Assuming everything that happens as expected, the NHL, which absolutely doesn't need a lockout or strike, will have one that will take out part of the '04-'05 season.

If a season isn't played, look for teams or their owners to get out fast. Some have said contraction or relocation is on the horizon again. Likely six teams are on the bubble, maybe even the Sharks who said in an ESPN report they are still losing money dispite extra revenue from nine postseason games. Only time will tell if the Sharks will be able to hit the ice with a stronger team and make another serious run at the Stanley Cup.

Before I head off to the sunset on this hockey season, I want to thank the great support fellow Sharks fans have given me in my quest to be the 2004 NHL's 7th Man. As you are aware, I won the Sharks 7th Man title near the end of the regular season and I am patiently waiting for the call to hear if I won or not. Here are two shots to prove my dedication to my team and the unforgettable ceremonial faceoff with Patrick Marleau and Los Angeles captain Mattias Norstrom. Thanks and I'll hear from you after the Entry Draft!


Contact Erik at Puckguy14@aol.com



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