The recent history of the San Jose Sharks has seen them arrive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a title favorite only to disappoint.
There were few expectations this year, as they entered with most of the same players that had come up short in years past. However, the team played perhaps the most complete series in team history, capped by a 4-3 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of the teams' Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
So how were the Sharks able to sweep a team out of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history? Here are five reasons they're the first team to advance to the conference semifinals.
1. Focus in the right places -- After Game 1, the Canucks talked about how the Sharks were cheating on faceoffs. On the day between Games 3 and 4, the Canucks focused on how the Sharks were embellishing plays to draw penalties. All the while the Sharks players ignored the talk, played their game and won.
"Please, keep worrying about us," Sharks forward Adam Burish said Tuesday. "We're going to worry about our guys and what we have to do and how we can be better and not worry about the integrity of the game and having props in interviews and acting like a lawyer with video evidence and all that stuff. We're not worried about that stuff."
Keeping their focus on the ice, rather than off-ice arguments, is a major reason the Sharks were able to advance.
2. Putting the power in their power play -- No team has gotten more power-play chances than the Sharks, and they made the Canucks pay. San Jose scored seven times on 24 chances (29.2 percent) in the four games. The seven extra-man goals were nearly half the 15 they scored in total in the series.
Two of the biggest moments of the series came when the Sharks had the man-advantage. A pair of power-play goals 2:27 apart by Logan Couture was part of a three-goal outburst early in the third period of Game 3, turning a 2-1 Sharks lead into a 5-1 advantage. And the series-clinching goal by Patrick Marleau came 15 seconds after Daniel Sedin was sent off for boarding at 13:03 of overtime in Game 4.
3. Sharks' younger players step up -- The twin faces of the franchise for a number of years have been Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but during this series a younger set of twin stars have stepped to the fore for the Sharks -- Couture, 24, and Joe Pavelski, 28. The duo is tied for the League lead with eight points each. Pavelski's four goals are tied for the League lead, and his three power-play goals are tied with Couture for first.
Marleau and Thornton, both 33, haven't disappeared -- Marleau also had four goals while Thornton had a goal and five assists -- but they have become complementary parts at this point, which has gone a long way toward making the Sharks better as a whole.
4. Winning the battle in net -- Much of the attention in the series was focused on who would be in net for Vancouver. But whether it was Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, the Sharks' Antti Niemi consistently out-played his Canucks counterpart.
Niemi wasn't exactly a brick wall -- he allowed eight goals in four games, including three in Game 4 -- but he seemed to make every important save. More than that, however, was the confidence he imbued in his teammates, that if there was a defensive breakdown, they could trust the man in net to bail them out. It didn't seem like the Canucks felt the same way about their goalie.
5. Playing from ahead -- There were 13 periods of hockey played in four games -- including the 13-plus minutes of overtime in Game 4 -- and at the end of each period, the Sharks either were tied or ahead at the end of all of them. In fact, the Canucks led for a total of 20:38 in the four games, and 11:58 of that total came in the second period of Game 2.
Only twice in the series did the Canucks score back-to-back goals -- the second period of Game 2 and the third period of Game 4. Both times those outbursts gave the Canucks the lead, but each time the Sharks got tying goals before the end of those periods.
Keeping the Canucks from building sustained momentum is one of the biggest reasons the Sharks are moving on and the Canucks are heading home.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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