A dark horse is a dark horse, of course, of course…until your dark horses make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, so that it’s guaranteed that at least one of those picks will actually win the Cup; then they become a couple of very shrewd assessments.
It was in this post where I marked down the Sharks and the Penguins as my “dark horse” picks to win it all, and I made a pretty firm case (with plenty of qualifications, naturally) in a separate post that the Sharks had something really good going on.
The question now is, who has the gumption left to take the last step and win four more games?
Based on previous notions, you’d have to put Pittsburgh in the favorite slot going into the Final. They still have guys on the roster–indeed, stars on the roster–who’ve won the Cup before, and that kind of experience can make a huge difference when it gets down to the nitty gritty. If Crosby and/or Malkin go nuts and just dominate game after game with offensive wizardry, there may not be a whole lot the Sharks can do about it.
But it’s not exactly hopeless for San Jose. Pittsburgh has weaknesses, primarily in goal. The dance in the crease involving Murray and Fleury does not promise consistently good results for the Penguins moving from game to game.
In contrast, Martin Jones has not exactly been Patrick Roy for the Sharks, but there’s been little question that he’s the team’s number one goaltender at this point. (The one appearance by James Reimer in the St. Louis series was more about the Sharks playing Swiss cheese defense in front of Jones than anything else.) If Jones can stone Pittsburgh’s scorers in the first couple of games, frustration might set in and lead to greater chances for San Jose’s opportunistic forwards–think Joel Ward, who was nails against the Blues–to get the Sharks out in front and leave the Penguins playing a catch-up game that could lead to still more opportunities for the Sharks’ front line, building a virtuous cycle that could push San Jose to rapid advancement–and, possibly, four big wins.
Also, though Pittsburgh has home ice advantage, it won’t necessarily help against a Sharks team that played better on the road all season, and that will also have the edge in rest, as San Jose brushed aside the Blues in six while Pittsburgh has had to go to Game 7 against the Lightning.
Everything about this says Sharks to me, but…Maybe I’m just loathe to pick them because I don’t want to be a homer; because I’ve watched this franchise from the moment it was founded; because the only time I’ve been to an NHL game in the past 28 years was at a Sharks game; because the history of this team is so full of postseason disappointments…
But I suspect all that is, quite literally, in the past. My guess says Sharks, probably in six games again, with a long-awaited skate with the Cup on home ice in front of some of the most rabid and loyal fans in the league, at least outside Canadian soil. It just feels like it’s time, at last.
Then again, I could be wrong.