SAN JOSE, Calif. – And just like that, the greatest regular season in San Jose Sharks history is an unspoken memory.
When the Sharks showed up at work Monday for their first post-season practice, nobody talked about the Presidents’ Trophy they earned over the weekend by finishing with the NHL’s best regular-season record.
Nobody soaked in the glory of their unmatched 32-5-4 record in the Shark Tank, or the yawning 26-point margin by which they won the Pacific Division title over Anaheim.
The Sharks are thinking about the Ducks, all right – but only as their opponents in a first-round playoff series that could be the NHL’s best opening matchup.
The series pits two sometimes-bitter rivals against each other in the postseason for the first time.
“When you’re in the same division with two California teams going at it, that’s what it’s about,” said Sharks forward Travis Moen, who arrived in a trade with Anaheim just last month.
“Definitely these teams have had some big games in the past, and we’ve already had some big games since I came up here. That’s what’s great about the playoffs. It’s a whole new challenge now.”
Discounting any achievement from the regular season ranks right up there with playoff beards among the post popular spring rituals in hockey.
Still, for a franchise that’s never been past the Western Conference finals since joining the NHL in 1991, this regular season was something remarkable for the Sharks.
San Jose finished with a franchise-record 53 victories and 117 points, winning the conference’s top spot by five points over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings.
The Sharks clinched their fourth Pacific title with several weeks left in the season, eventually finishing with the biggest margin among the league’s six division champs.
“We’re proud of what we accomplished, but there’s enough guys in this locker room who know that what you do in the regular season doesn’t always reflect on the playoffs,” defenceman Rob Blake said.
Indeed, the regular season hasn’t been a problem for the Sharks for about five years.
After their run to the 2004 conference finals, their last three postseasons have ended in the second round, cementing their perceived status as hockey’s biggest head cases, unable to maintain the mental focus that got them to the postseason.
Rookie coach Todd McLellan, the man in charge of those heads, resisted any urge to deliver grand motivational gestures or gut-checks this season, even while San Jose slowed to average levels of success in the final weeks before the postseason.
The Sharks are just 12-10-2 since late February, and they backed into the Presidents’ Trophy with back-to-back losses to non-playoff teams to finish the regular season.
McLellan’s roster includes several veterans imported largely for their past Stanley Cup successes, and general manager Doug Wilson expects that collective experience to start paying off immediately.
“The regular season is important for getting in the right playoff position and for developing good habits, but it’s also like starting all over again,” said 43-year-old Claude Lemieux.
Sharks centre Jeremy Roenick learned what McLellan is trying to teach almost two decades ago. He was with the Chicago Blackhawks when they won the Presidents’ Trophy in 1991, only to lose their first-round series with the Minnesota North Stars.
Of the 22 teams to win the trophy since the league began awarding it, only seven won the Stanley Cup.
“You can be proud of playing well and happy that it put you in the position to have the Stanley Cup come through your building, but that’s about it,” Roenick said.
“Nobody in here is resting on anything that we did. You don’t have that luxury in hockey.”