Even as hockey leagues all over the world take a hiatus, the Last Word on Hockey team is still devoted to publishing quality content in the absence of live sports. Our NHL Rivalry Breakdown series hopes to fill the void. Each article will take a look at two longtime rivals (or in this case two relatively new rivals) and break down how the rivalry came to be. How the teams stack up against each other currently, and how the matchup may look down the road. Two Pacific Division foes will be featured in this piece: the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights.
NHL Rivalry: San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights
San Jose Sharks Past
The San Francisco Bay Area previously had an NHL team, known first as the Seals and then as the Golden Seals, from 1967 to 1976. The San Jose Sharks finished at the bottom of their division in both of their first two seasons. In 1993–94 they qualified for the play-offs. In the postseason the Sharks shocked the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings, winning their first-round playoff series in seven games in one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history.
During the 1997–98 campaign the team began a streak of five consecutive postseason appearances. With players like forwards Owen Nolan and centre Patrick Marleau they won their first division title and appeared in the 2001–02 Western Conference semifinals. They lost to the Colorado Avalanche in a seven-game series. In 2008–09 San Jose, had the best record in the NHL, thanks in part to the stellar play of one Joe Thornton. However, they were upset in the first round of the postseason by the Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks’ history of play-off disappointment reached an apex in the 2013–14 season. They became only the fourth team in NHL history to lose a postseason series after holding a 3–0 advantage. They dropped four consecutive games against the rival Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Then in 2015–16 despite having just the fifth-best regular-season record in the Western Conference, San Jose finally won its first-ever conference title. The Sharks then lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
In 2017-18, the Sharks lost in the second round to the upstart Vegas Golden Knights in six games. The Vegas squad went on to the Cup Finals against the eventual winning Washington Capitals. The following year, the Sharks were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals in six games again.
Vegas Golden Knights Past
The Vegas Golden Knights are only in their third NHL season since being added as an expansion team in 2017-18. The history between these two teams is slim but combative. The Golden Knights came out of the gates in their initial season like gangbusters. Who would have thought that an expansion team could be so successful in their first season in the NHL?
That 2017-18 season was special. They accumulated a 51-24-7 record good for 109 points and a first-place finish in the Pacific Division. They were exceptionally skilled on the power play with a 21.37 percent success rate. Killing penalties wasn’t an issue for them either, as they had a very respectable 81.43 percent rate.
Playoffs Showed Vegas was for Real
So, the Vegas upstarts including players other teams didn’t protect in the expansion draft were off to the playoffs. They banished the Kings in four straight games in the first round. They then faced the Sharks and defeated them in six games. More on that in a moment. The Vegas club advanced to the Western Conference Finals against the Winnipeg Jets and took them out in five games. Could it be that this gang of rejects was going to play in the Stanley Cup Finals? Yep. And, of course, we all know they went down to the more experienced and talented Capitals in five games, but what a showing!
The NHL rivalry against the Sharks began in their second-round clash with the Bay area boys. The Vegas team won its fifth consecutive playoff game by a wide margin of 7-0. The word embarrassing comes to mind for the Sharks performance… or lack thereof. To add to the insult, seven different players tallied goals for Vegas and they had three power-play goals for good measure.
The Sharks came back in the second game to win in two overtimes 4-3. Then, Vegas bounced back in Game 3 to win an overtime game of their own by the same score. The Game 4 showed the Sharks dominating 4-0, with a shutout by goalie Martin Jones. The next two games were decisive with the series tied 2-2. The Golden Knights prevailed in Game 5 by the score of 5-3. That opened the door for the Cinderella team to take the series with a shutout by their outstanding goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Rivalry Accelerates
Everyone will remember the following season when the Sharks and Golden Knights met again in the playoffs. The Joe Pavelski injury dominated Game 7 which featured four power-play goals being scored in 4:01 by the Sharks. This all occurred when Cody Eakin was assessed a major cross-checking penalty against Pavelski so severe that it warranted game misconduct. Pavelski left the game bleeding from his head. The Sharks had come back from a three-goal deficit to win the game and the series in overtime, 5-4.
The cross-checking penalty was very controversial and has increased the NHL rivalry between these two Pacific Division teams. While it is true that there are not many games played between them, these two teams don’t like each other.
The Present – San Jose Sharks
This is the current Sharks roster according to dailyfaceoff.com:
Martin Jones Aaron Dell
The Present – Vegas Golden Knights
This is the current Golden Knights roster according to dailyfaceoff.com:
Marc-Andre Fleury Robin Lehner
The Future of the San Jose Sharks/Vegas Golden Knights Rivalry
While history is brief between these two teams, you can count on many more games being highly contested with an overload of excitement and physical play. They match up well… or at least they did until this 2019-20 season where the Sharks fell from grace due to some factors beyond their control.
You can be certain that the Sharks will be back next season (or maybe even this season depending on what happens with the suspension of play) to match up against their nemesis Vegas counterparts. While the rosters may change a bit, the way the two teams play each other probably won’t.
That Game 7 from last season will stand out as an integral part of the rivalry going forward.
As stated, these two teams don’t like each other and that’s a prerequisite for an NHL rivalry to exist.