The San Jose Sharks really like to drag things on, don’t they?
With their loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, the Sharks will go the distance in a second consecutive series to begin this post-season. It’s hard to forget their first go at it, either, as the Sharks erased a 3-0 deficit, defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in dramatic fashion and produced the first 3-1 series comeback in franchise history. But with a trip to the Western Conference final on the line, the Sharks find themselves needing to pull out another Game 7 victory, and they’ll have to manage it against an Avalanche squad that has proven to be one of the hardest-working teams in the post-season.
What the Sharks are about to embark upon is a rarity in today’s NHL, particularly with the scarcity of Game 7s in the past two seasons. During both the 2017 and 2018 post-seasons, only three series went the distance, tied for the fewest of any post-season since the 2008 playoffs. However, there were already three Game 7s in the first round and there will have been five, including both Round 2 series in the Western Conference, by the time the conference finals come about.
Despite full-length playoff rounds in consecutive series, though, history indicates the odds of the Sharks escaping a second do-or-die contest are actually favorable. Since the NHL’s introduction of the seven-game opening round in 1987, there are 13 instances of a team playing back-to-back Game 7s to begin a post-season run, and the team going the distance in consecutive rounds has gone 9-4 in those games, with a 9-2 record coming in the past 11 attempts.
The franchise’s own success in Game 7s could also give them an edge. Not only did this Sharks group win its opening-round Game 7 against the Golden Knights, but a team with a very similar core won a series-deciding contest against the Nashville Predators in 2016, which was the most recent winner-moves-on game prior to the current post-season. Historically, too, the Sharks have come to play in Game 7s, posting a 7-4 all-time record, including a 4-1 record at home, where the team will be in the clinching game. The overall record ties the Sharks with the Los Angeles Kings for the best winning percentage (.636) among teams with at least four appearances in a winner-take-all contest.
There’s also the matter of in-series momentum. The Sharks and Avalanche have swapped victories throughout the series, and if the trend repeats itself, San Jose is due a victory. Granted, that’s random, but it could be yet another reason to bet on the Sharks to win on Wednesday.
San Jose’s prospects beyond the second round get a bit dicier, however. Though there are nine teams who have won consecutive Game 7s, the most recent of which was the 2016 St. Louis Blues, there is only one club that has converted that momentum into a Stanley Cup: the 2014 Los Angeles Kings. That season, the Kings defeated the Sharks in seven games in Round 1, the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in Round 2 and then toppled the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference final before downing the New York Rangers in five games to win the Stanley Cup.
But of course, past data doesn’t matter if you can’t score more goals than the other team. And with a one-goal differential between the Sharks and Avalanche this series, it’s anyone’s guess as to who’ll win.
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