SAN JOSE — The Sharks' most recent obstacle to a long-sought Stanley Cup has been their geographic rival, the Los Angeles Kings, who beat them to a first franchise championship in 2012 and knocked them out in Game 7 of the playoffs in the second round last season.
Three seasons ago, Team Teal eliminated Los Angeles in round one and went on to the Western Conference finals. Two playoff encounters in three years make the Kings arguably the Sharks' top nemesis today, despite Southern California's Anaheim Ducks and a historic grapple with the Detroit Red Wings.
When the Sharks visited the Kings for the first encounter this season, they fell 4-3 in overtime. Wednesday's game at SAP Center went into overtime and then to an eight-round shootout in which San Jose's Joe Thornton, with a backhand move, scored the game-winner.
“I think they are two teams that are pretty evenly matched,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said postgame. “We've had a couple playoffs series with them now. Obviously, geographically they are rivals, but they're fun teams to play and I think both teams like to play against each other.”
San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan always expects a battle.
“Every time we play them, it's going to come down to the wire, and it did tonight,” he said.
The playoff encounters – more so than the Northern versus Southern California dynamic present in other professional sports – built up the rivalry, according to Dan Rusanowsky, voice of the Sharks since the team's inception in 1991.
Beyond that, the rivalry is in the front office. To this day, Kings coach Darryl Sutter has coached more games for San Jose than anyone else in franchise history. Los Angeles' general manager Dean Lombardi also held his position with the Sharks before joining the rival Kings.
Even the players, Rusanowsky noted, have bragging rights on the line. Sharks center Logan Couture and Kings defenseman Drew Doughty grew up minutes apart in London, Ontario.
Meanwhile, loud fans are only getting louder with “Beat L.A.” chants as the rivalry intensifies.
Fremont resident Kyle Dennis, 24, has been wearing his “Rogue Shark” costume to selected games for the past few years.
“Tonight was one of those nights because we absolutely despise L.A.,” said Dennis, who is originally from Anaheim. “The playoffs last year was the climax of the rivalry and this is the first one we've had here this year and it hasn't dropped off since.”
Kings goalie Ben Scrivens, who played his first game in San Jose on Wednesday, noticed the passion at the arena.
“It's a loud rink, good fan support, so it's great for the league,” he said. “We love to see that.”
For fans, a Stanley Cup for the Sharks would mean more than just the franchise's first championship, Rusanowsky said.
“It really will be a coming out party for the city,” he said. “Really is a civic pride event.”
The Sharks are tied with Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, just above Los Angeles. San Jose started the season strong, so expectations are high.
“I'm hoping it's the year for the Sharks,” said five-year season ticket holder Doug Halbert, 56. “Because I can't afford many more season tickets.”