Anybody in the South Bay with a teal-colored jersey in their closet is peeking to the east these days, trying to size up the city of Chicago and the Blackhawks, the Sharks’ final Western Conference opponent.
It’s a title not many expected to apply to any NHL team when it came to the Sharks this year. Sure, they were good enough this regular season to convince the uninitiated to believe the conference final was possible, but not to the Sharks fans who’ve been through the past few years.
To say the least, it hasn’t been safe to believe in the postseason Sharks. It is now.
No matter how this series plays out, no matter what destiny awaits the 2009-10 Sharks from here, this bunch is off the hook. Oh, it will be beyond painful if they lose, but this version of the Sharks has met its postseason requirements. All that can happen from here is a trip to the Stanley Cup finals. And bliss.
Which brings Sharks fans back to sizing up the Blackhawks, most of whom these days probably believe they’re nothing more than the team that has resurrected itself from the ashes of their 2003-04 season when they went 20-43-11 for a whopping 59 points.
Prior to last season, they had missed the NHL playoffs nine out of 10 years — and hadn’t won a playoff series since 1997.
Now, the Blackhawks are a completely different team. There will be plenty of older fans leaning over and whispering into the ears of sons and daughters names like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Jim Pappen, Pat Stapleton or Tony Esposito, the core of the Blackhawks team that was so good in the ’70s, reaching the Cup finals twice in three years.
Hull has been credited by hockey history as the first player with a slap shot. Esposito was among the first to employ the butterfly stance in front of a goal.
Other whispers will remind the young ones that former Shark Jeremy Roenick and Detroit Red Wings nemesis Chris Chelios were key members of some really good Blackhawk teams in the early ’90s, putting together 107-point seasons two out of three years, with a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in between.
There may be plenty of hockey history worth remembering out of Chicago, but there are plenty of other names worth bringing up that helped get the Sharks to this point: Kelly Kisio, Arturs Irbe, Jeff Friesen, Pat Faloon, Sandis Ozolinsh, Mike Ricci, Bill Houlder, Kelly Hrudey, Mike Rathje, Vincent Damphousse, Teemu Selane, Owen Nolan, Stephane Matteau, just to name a few.
Tim Lincecum may not be saying anything, but when he came off the mound last Sunday, the fact the bullpen blew his lead for the third time in a row sure had the Giants fans I know simmering.
With an ounce of help, he could have been seven-for-seven at that point of the season.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.