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Venkataraman: Sharks poised for playoff breakthrough

The San Jose Sharks are no stranger to postseason heartbreak. As a Bay Area transplant, having moved to Cupertino in 2004, my first interaction with the franchise was through my dad’s work — he managed to score some tickets for cheap from a coworker and took us to the HP Pavilion, where we ate some food-poisoning-inducing Round Table Pizza (don’t ask) and watched names like Jonathan Cheechoo, Jumbo Joe Thornton (imported, like me, from Boston) and Evgeni Nabokov play an alien sport known as hockey.

Watching hockey in person is an illuminating experience. Skating, which seems so effortless on the TV, is in fact a mindbogglingly tough exercise even without burly men in pads trying to knock you off of your feet. Add in the complexity of a puck that can roll or slide depending on its mood, a curved stick as a tool of destruction and goals that seem smaller than the men who protect them, and you’ve got hockey.

Young Viggy was transfixed, and it didn’t hurt that the Sharks won, giving everyone extra free Round Table pizza — although the consequences of this would be felt later in the bathrooms at my house. Since that moment, the Sharks have had a loyal, if absent, fan — if there are other sports on, I’m probably not watching hockey, but I’ve almost always paid attention to them and when the playoffs arrive, I’m all in on the Sharks bandwagon.

Alas, the postseason has been the one mountain the Sharks have yet to climb. Between 2005 and 2014, Los Tiburones have finished no worse than third in the Pacific Division and actually won the division four consecutive times between 2007 and 2011, qualifying for the playoffs each year.

The memories of the playoffs are much less fond – losing to the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in 2006 despite being up 2-0, getting smashed by the Red Wings in 2007, losing a devastating four-overtime game to the Stars to end their season in 2008, getting dumped by the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round in 2009 (despite being the top seed), getting swept by the Blackhawks in the conference finals in 2010, getting smashed by Vancouver in the conference finals in 2011 and probably most devastatingly, losing a seven-game series to the Ducks and Kings in 2013 and 2014, the latter despite being up 3-0.

This tragic tale of postseason woe obviously cannot compare to other snakebitten franchises, many of which have had championship droughts that are longer than the existence of the Sharks franchise itself. Still, for sports fan Viggy, the Sharks’ inability to even make a Stanley Cup final stung then and still stings now.

I hate to jinx any momentum the team has built up, but this season feels different.

Despite finishing third in the Pacific Division, the Sharks have gutted out difficult playoff series victories over the hated Kings (revenge is sweet!) and the Predators (finally, a victory in a seven-game series!), and are just about to get underway in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the St. Louis Blues, in a series that is currently tied 1-1 but has been dominated by the Sharks in terms of quality of play. It certainly feels like the playoff demons have been exorcised by new coach Peter DeBoer, although this could just be an always-hopeful fan overreacting to victories over an archrival (LA) and a constant bugaboo (playoff series’ that stretch to seven games).

I just hope that the mojo continues to hold, and me penning this article (on time, no less!) doesn’t break everything and cause them to lose this game or this series. Go Sharks, and happy Friday to all.

 

Blast Vignesh¬†Venkataraman with Round Table Pizza coupons to exorcise demons of his past at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu

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