The San Jose Sharks, the team I've grown up watching, has finally reached the Stanley Cup final.
For the first time in their 25 year history, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting hockey's holy grail.
Am I happy? Of course. Did I party in the streets after last night's 5-2 Western Conference clinching win? Nope.
There is only one time to party.
When it's all over.
After 10 straight seasons of making the playoffs only to miss out on the Cup every time, there will be no satisfaction until the final horn sounds and the Sharks have won their 16th game in a single playoff.
Seriously Scared of Pittsburgh
And boy oh boy, the anxiety is now at an all time max because there is still a tough series ahead for the Sharks, especially if they end up facing the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No disrespect intended towards the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that will no doubt be a tough opponent if they win tonight's Game 7, but the Penguins present a real tough matchup problem for San Jose.
With the way the "HBK" line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel are playing, the Sharks will be faced with their toughest matchup of the playoffs if Pittsburgh advances. San Jose's Achilles heel is no doubt their third defense pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak.
Thus far through the postseason the Sharks have gotten away with playing their third pair a decent amount of minutes, but this Penguins "third" line has arguably been the best line in the playoffs. Head coach Peter DeBoer may have to limit their ice time if they face the Penguins because all three of Pittsburgh's top lines will feast against Dillon and Polak.
While Penguins super stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been quiet at times throughout these playoffs, the Sharks cannot simply throw out Dillon and Polak against either of them and hope to win. Assuming Malkin and Crosby are split up, DeBoer has to use each of his top two pairs against those two lines. That is going to leave Dillon and Polak to fend against super star Phil Kessel and the HBK line which is a recipe for disaster.
Top-4 D Can Handle More Minutes
Unless DeBoer elects to increase the minutes for his top-four of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Brent Burns and Paul Martin, the Penguins scare me more than any other playoff opponent. Before the playoffs started, I would have never imagined saying any Eastern Conference team would be the Sharks toughest opponent, but the way the Penguins are put together at forward reminds me of their 2009 Cup winning team that featured three strong lines.
The good news for Sharks fans is if the Penguins do advance, San Jose's top-four defense is very much capable of increased minutes. But DeBoer trusts his third pair far more than I do, and Pittsburgh could take advantage of that matchup before the Sharks even blink.
There is also the thought that the Sharks play better as the underdog and they would be in that role vs Pittsburgh. Furthermore, the Sharks have tended to struggle against backup goaltenders. Tampa Bay's No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop is currently out of the lineup with an injury.
When it comes down to it though, yours truly isn't subscribing to the underdog theory. I would much rather see them face the Lightning than the Penguins. I'm already having nightmares imagining Polak trying to stop Kessel.
(Brent Burns photo: Zeke Mo)