In Today’s NHL, no team has become so legendary for blowing it during the playoffs than the San Jose Sharks. Sure, there have been teams in the NHL plus other sports franchises who also had that reputation of making great teams but always losing when it counted during their history, such as their division rival Ducks in recent years (though they have one Stanley Cup under their belt), the Kings during the Dionne through Gretzky years, the Lakers in the 1960s, the Brooklyn Dodgers before 1955, the Boston Red Sox between 1919 and 2004, the Buffalo Bills four straight Super Bowl losses, and many others, but over the last decade it seems that the Sharks have made such a big reputation for blowing it during the playoffs that it’s impossible for hockey fans NOT to say “the sharks choke in the playoffs.”
Let’s get one thing out of the way. I hate the Sharks. As a Southern California native who supports all local teams, I am not only bred to hate every team from Northern California, I have grown up doing so, even as far as hating all the NorCal teams I played against while growing up playing ice hockey. While I do respect the history and stories of the longtime franchises, I will NEVER cheer for a Northern California team, and I don’t care what sport it’s in. It’s one thing to be from the Bay Area living as a transplant, but it totally baffles me seeing so many native-born SoCal people that despise their local teams and love the Sharks instead. Sure, some people absolutely despise everything associated with L.A. and/or will never get over the Disney movie roots of the Ducks, but when it comes to jumping on the Sharks bandwagon instead of their local teams, often times their reasons are, “well I like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau; they’re my favorite players” or “because they are a really good team and fun to watch,” all the way down to “I like their colors.” However, aside from the few that I’m actually friends with, most Sharks fans I’ve encountered do not share the same knowledge and love of the sport as I do, but then again the same can be said about fans of the team of your choice. But to me, the Sharks fans in attendance get really annoying due to their constant booing and whining over calls not going their way, even at their own players when they lose. When I go to games when the Sharks are visiting, many times the fans I’ve encountered have been downright obnoxious and disrespectful, and don’t know when to shut their mouths at games.
One time I dated this girl who said she was a big Sharks fan, so we went to a game in Anaheim when the Sharks were in town, and she couldn’t name a single player on the Sharks roster, and one couldn’t imagine how much I poked fun at her for that all through the game. Even though the Sharks won that game it didn’t matter, the Ducks fans kept taunting the Sharks fans over their epic playoff choke in 2009, saying “first round chokers!” *clap* *clap* *clap clap clap.*
Sure, over the past two decades, they have easily been the most successful of the California franchises during the regular season, winning the division 6 times, the president’s trophy once, boasting rosters of strong skaters and potential future hall of fame players, and having more post season appearances than their So-Cal rivals. But their regular season success was always washed away when it came to playoff time. After being underdogs for so long, starting in 2001-02 id when their reputation as playoff chokers took center stage. Year after year they had all the makings of a championship caliber team: big name veteran superstars, great depth teams with decent coaching staff, strong high scoring offense, great defenseman, and great goaltending. When I can get over the fact I hate the Sharks more than I love my local teams, they can be fun to watch, and especially during the regular season, look downright scary to the other teams and their fans. They also have a home attendance that’s regarded around the league as among the loudest crowds (mostly due to the acoustics and low roof of the SAP Center) and thus one of the toughest arenas for visiting teams to play in. Therefore, It’s no surprise that so many experts pick the Sharks as favorites to win it all year after year.
But come playoff time, have managed to lose in every way possible, and just when you thought they couldn’t lose a certain way, there is always that one year it happens. Getting swept or losing series in 5 games; Losing three to four straight games after getting the series lead; Blowing leads in big games that turn the tide; Blowing series when they were on the brink of eliminating their opponents and moving on; losing to much lower seeded teams and sometimes getting dominated by them; there’s also been games with bad luck going their way, or even bad Karma due to their idiot fans in attendance, or incidents involving certain players cheating and getting away with it. It doesn’t matter what round it’s in, the chokes are all humiliating in their own way.
The following list is all their postseason chokes starting in 2002. Why not earlier? Because between 1991-2001, they were underdogs, and not seen as this big powerhouse franchise in the league, and not expected to go far. Sure they have a few playoff upsets of elite teams under their belt in those days, but to most fans, it was clear they themselves were not a championship caliber team. That changed as soon as the Sharks started finishing near the top of the standings, and winning division titles. Then in 2005 when Boston decided Joe Thornton wasn’t worth the money he was getting paid and traded him to San Jose, that’s when everyone started going “oh no, look out for Jumbo Joe and San Jose!”
I will also give my input on why it was a playoff choke, and have also given my score by how bad the choke in question was. The lowest being “ehh, whatever” and the highest being “Holy mother of God, what a choke!”
2001-02 -Lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the second round
Why was it a choke? They won their first of 6 division titles here, and seemed to have it all going in thanks to superstars like Vinnie Damphousse, Owen Nolan, and Teemu Selanne before his first freefall into healthy scratches. While they made easy work of the Coyotes in the first round, the Sharks battled to a 3-2 series lead against the Avalanche, but with a chance to close it out, lost Game 6 at home in overtime, and couldn’t recover for Game 7. The Avalanche were defending champions, and were still near the top of their game, so maybe it was expected that the Avalanche would move on. Little did we know this was a hint of things to come for the San Jose franchise.
Choke Level: 3
2002-2003 – Did not Make Playoffs
Why Was it a Choke: You can’t choke in the playoffs if you don’t make the playoffs. All they did was miss the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons. However, they were also one of the worst teams in the league that year, so… yeah… whatever. Can’t beat a dead horse.
Choke Level: 1
2003-2004 – Lost in Third Round to the Calgary Flames
Why was it a Choke?: While they made easy work of the Blues and Avalanche in the first two rounds, against the Flames it was a different story. After losing the first two games at home, the Sharks had just clawed their way back into the series with two road victories in Calgary, and it looked like all the momentum was on their side for Game 5 at home. Then they gave up a shorthanded goal early in the game and it was all done from there. They got shut out 3-0 at home for game 5, and in game 6 had a great opportunity to tie the game in the waning seconds, but the set up pass missed Jonathan Cheechoo’s stick and went all the way into the Sharks empty net to put one more final nail in the coffin. Some say this loss was retribution for their fans booing during the Canadian National Anthem before Game 5. By the way, who was the coach of the Flames that year? Why it was former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter, who had just been replaced by Ron Wilson the year before.
Choke Level: 8
2004-05: NHL Lockout
Why was this a choke: nobody played that year, so nobody was given the chance. Maybe they were practicing the art on the golf courses. Since nobody could agree on stupid money issues, and save the season, everyone choked that year, and nearly ruined the league. Even today with all the changes there are groups of fans and former players who say the NHL nowadays is nothing more than a glorified adult league.
Choke Level: 0
2005-06: Lost in the Second Round to the Edmonton Oilers
Why was this a choke?: This was the year Joe Thornton not only was traded to San Jose, but won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross trophy as the league MVP and top scorer respectively. Jonathan Cheechoo also got the Rocket Richard trophy for getting the most goals scored. Once again, it looked like the Sharks had it all and were on their way to go far in the playoffs. Because the Oilers were the lowest seed, and not expected to go much further, the Sharks were predicted to steamroll their way to the finals. But after going up two games to none, it seemed like the Sharks were doomed, losing in triple overtime for Game 3, blowing an early 3-1 lead in game 4 by allowing Edmonton to score 5 unanswered goals, and after that it was all Oilers on their way to winning four straight games after going down 0-2. Losing four straight to a low seeded team is pretty much just as bad as getting swept altogether. but in all fairness, the run made by the Oilers that year was something nobody saw coming.
Choke Level: 6
2006-07 : Lost in the second round to Detroit Red Wings
Why was this a choke?: Both teams were predicted to be heavy favorites to win the Cup that year, but I distinctly remember several big sites like Yahoo! saying the Sharks were going to win it all. It looked that way in the second round when the Sharks were up 2 games to 1 against the Red Wings. Game 4 in San Jose saw the Sharks up 2-0, only to blow the lead, with the tying goal going in with less than a minute remaining; then they lost in overtime to even the series. I remember watching this game at home and thinking “yup, I knew it, it was only a matter of time before they’d blow it in the playoffs.” and sure enough, my prediction came true: Detroit then dominated and outscored San Jose 6-1 over the next two games to win the series. Here the Sharks lost three straight games after going up in the series and having a chance to get a stranglehold on the series, but the two bad goals they let in during Game 4 was the beginning of the end… still a big choke but not as bad as losing four straight the year before.
Choke Level: 5
2007-08 – Lost in the second round to the Dallas Stars
Why was this a choke?: This may be the closest playoff loss that wasn’t really considered a choke, since they faced off against a Dallas team that was red hot riding off their eliminating the Stanley Cup Champion in the first round. Dallas won the first three games, two of which went to OT. The Sharks won games 4 and 5 to shift the momentum back, but in game 6, the game went into four overtones before the Stars won the game and eliminated the Sharks. The only way it could be considered a choke was the fact that there was an 11 point difference in regular season standings between the two teams, and San Jose had the higher seed and was the second best team in the league during the regular season.
Choke Level: 2
2008-09 – Lost 4-2 in the first round to the Anaheim Ducks
Why was this a choke?: The Sharks were the best team in the regular season that year, and many sports experts considered them Cup favorites because of that. The Ducks had just clawed their way into the playoffs and barely made the 8th and final spot. There was a 26 point difference between the two teams. The Ducks won the first two games in the road in front of a stunned and silent San Jose crowd. While the Sharks eventually woke up and got two wins of their own, in game 6, the Ducks flat out dominated the Sharks on their way to a 4-1 win. Not only that, the game opened with Joe Thornton getting in a fight with Ryan Getzlaf, something I’ll probably never see again. I was at this game, and the look on all the Sharks fans faces was absolutely priceless as the Ducks celebrated their win. The Sharks simply managed to further prove my claim that winning the Presidents Trophy is a kiss of death for the playoffs… most of the time.
Choke Level: 9
2009-10 – Lost 4-0 in the third round to the Chicago Blackhawks
Why was this a choke?: San Jose won the Pacific Division title once again during the regular season, and pretty much steamrolled their way to the Conference Finals with an 8-3 record during the first two rounds. They even managed to recover from a potential first round choke-job against Colorado after going down 2-1 in the series by scoring on their own net in overtime. The Blackhawks had just one more loss, and were also equally as dominant. With the playoff experience of the Sharks and the surge upstart of the Blackhawks, that should’ve made one hell of a seven game Conference Final right? Nope… Chicago flat out swept San Jose. Sure, The Blackhawks only outscored them 11-7 over their four meetings, but the Sharks had three games where they scored first, and one game where they were up 2-0 but then blew the lead and the game. Of course fans will say “but they lost to the Cup Champion that year, shouldn’t that amount for something?” Not if your team is constantly picked to win it all. The Sharks had been making the postseason consistently since 2004, and at that time Chicago was among the worst teams in the league and golfing during the postseason up until 2008-09. You’re not supposed to lose to a young playoff squad like that, especially when you’re supposed to have the experience and the advantage.
Choke Level: 7
2010-2011 – Lost4-1 in the third round to the Vancouver Canucks
Why was this a choke?: Once again this was supposed to be their year. After all, they aquired Anti Niemi from the Champion Blackhawks, and had more strength on their roster with guys like Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley. However, there were two other playoff rounds in 2011 the Sharks almost choked but found a way to win. The first round was against an Anze Kopitar-less Los Angeles Kings who blew a major lead in game 3, and couldn’t capitalize on a 5 minute major penalty in overtime for game 6… In short a Kings team that refused to win. The second round the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead against the Red Wings but still won game 7 at home. The third round was a match up against the Canucks, another perennial playoff choker throughout their 40+ year existence (don’t get me started on their own choke-job in the 2011 Finals vs Boston), but since the Sharks had been in the third round the year before and had more playoff experience over the last decade than the Canucks, surely they’d figure out how to win the big games far in the playoffs, right? Nope. The Canucks beat them in 5 games, with the fifth game seeing the Sharks blow the lead with less than 20 seconds left and lose in the second overtime. Not as much of a choke as against the Blackhawks, but still significant none the less.
Choke Level: 6
2011-2012 – Lost 4-1 in the first round to the St. Louis Blues
Why was this a choke?: Going into the playoffs, the Sharks got away with an incident versus the Kings where Ryane Clowe was cheating by trying to reach for the puck from inside the bench, and really pissed off the Kings fans in the crowd. So it was figured that karma would once again happen in the playoffs, right? Yep. The Sharks won the first game in overtime, but after that it was all St. Louis controlling the series, only allowing 5 goals over the next four games and winning them all to eliminate San Jose. The Blues just showed they were simply better. For the Sharks, it wasn’t their biggest choke, but it surely didn’t help their reputation either.
Choke Level: 5
2012-2013 – Lost 4-3 in the second round to the Los Angeles Kings
Why was this a choke?: The Sharks beat the crap out of the Canucks in the first round, but even Canucks fans themselves claimed that the Sharks beating them in 2013 was “the equivalent of stepping on dog poop.” The Kings were defending champions, but clearly not the dominant invincible team they were the year before. In Game 2 with a chance to tie the series, the Sharks blew a late game lead due to penalty trouble. They eventually did tie the series at home because the Kings were terrible on the road in 2013, but I remember being at game 5 in L.A. during a moment of silence for tornado victims in Oklahoma, one idiot yelled “let’s go Sharks!” And at that exact moment I knew the Kings would win the series, which they eventually did in 7 games thanks to Jonathan Quick absolutely robbing the Sharks out of a game tying goal. Once again wasn’t their biggest choke, but this was the time I started hearing the familiar phrase not just from local fans but around the NHL. But it did make the playoff rivalry more heated.
Choke Level: 6
2013-2014 – Lost 4-3 to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round
Why was this a choke?: oh I don’t know… How about BLOWING A 3-0 SERIES LEAD?! And not just to any team, but to their most hated rivals in Los Angeles?! The Sharks flat out dominated the Kings in the first two games, and it wasn’t even funny: out scoring L.A. 13-5. To say I was distraught was the least you could describe how I felt as those games went on. The Kings finally showed up for Game 3, but still lost in OT due to a lucky bounce off Patrick Marleau. I remember on Facebook my Sharks fan ex taunted the Kings saying “this just in the Kings finally show up To the game and they still suck!” I threw my phone across the room in disgust, just mad that once again it looked like the Kings would lose to their most hated rival. Then something happened… The Kings won the next four games, out scoring them 18-5, including a 3-0 shutout in Game 5, and a 5-1 schooling session in Game 7 in San Jose. Talk about a complete turnaround! If the Sharks reputation as chokers wasn’t legendary before then, it surely was after that series. The ridicule that I saw coming from fans around the NHL I finally saw, thanks to meme after meme.
Choke Level: 10
So there you have it, the current list of all the playoff chokes that the Sharks have done. As this current NHL season is going on, and teams are fighting for their playoff spots, only time will tell if the Sharks can get it together at all, or if they finally miss out on the playoffs and potentially spare their fans another playoff choke job.