As we embark on this potentially-incredible series between the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues, it is important to remember that while Sharks fans are feeling confident that this may finally be the team of destiny, fans of the Blues are saying the exact same thing about their club. Long-time Blues supporters are foaming at the mouth at a crack to hang a silver banner in the Scottrade Center and their team has had it worse than you probably realize.
Sometimes I feel that Sharks fans are quite ignorant when it comes to how long we have been waiting to celebrate a Stanley Cup champion, compared to other markets. I cannot count the number of times in 2011 when I constantly heard Bay Area fans bemoaning their “entitlement” that the Sharks should have advanced over the Canucks in the Western Conference Final. “We’ve been waiting 20 years … We should already have a championship by now … The Canucks don’t deserve to be there.” Really? At that time, Canucks fans had been waiting 40 years — twice as long as Sharks fans — and had not ever won a Stanley Cup. In fact, until that season, they had never even won a Presidents’ Trophy. Fast forward five years, with Sharks fans saying that “we have been waiting 25 years for this…” Yes, that is a long time and we’re due. However, the Blues will be marking their 50-year point in the 2016-17 season and how do you think they feel, having never won a Cup either?
The Blues have done one thing that the Sharks never have — they have reached the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet, that fact is almost more stunning of a story than the Sharks inability to make it to grand finale. When St. Louis started its Blues franchise from the great NHL expansion of 1967, they experienced the unfathomable feat of reaching the Cup Finals in each of its first three seasons. It sounds like a glorious period to build a team from, but the catch in all three of those appearances? They were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in 1968, swept by the Canadiens again in 1969, and swept by the Boston Bruins in 1970. Not one.. single.. win. The Blues have never been back to the Stanley Cup Finals ever since.
Even while qualifying for the playoffs in 25 consecutive NHL seasons from 1980 through 2004, they could not get back to the Finals. They only reached the Conference Finals twice in that entire span. In contrast, the Sharks qualified 10 consecutive playoffs, prior to last season, reaching the Conference Finals three times.
It is true that the core of the Sharks have had to endure playoff disappointment longer than that of the Blues. Joe Thornton has been in San Jose for 11 seasons, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic for nine, Logan Couture for six, Brent Burns for five, and Patrick Marleau for pretty much all of it. It doesn’t mean, though, that the Blues aren’t familiar with heartbreak themselves. Captain David Backes has had his dreams crushed for nine years, Alexander Steen for eight, Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo for seven, Kevin Shattenkirk for five, and even head coach Ken Hitchcock for five. Until this season, the Blues had only won one playoff series since 2002 (swept in the 2012 Conference semifinals by Los Angeles). So both teams have had their fair share of lousy offseasons.
This year’s playoffs have seen a lot of demons slain for both the Sharks and the Blues. For one of these teams, it unfortunately will still not be enough. That right there should tell you how difficult it is to reach the Finals no matter how good your team may be performing. Both teams are coming in on mental highs from defeating a powerhouse opponent in the first round and then securing Game 7 victories in the second round.
Until the games are played, how each team performs, how much effort is given, and how officiating potentially dictates the emotion of the series, let’s refrain from the comments about how the Sharks deserve to win more than the Blues. The reality is, winning this series is just as important to that team as it is to our guys.