John Devine: Ready to celebrate 20 years with a Stanley Cup

You can create a lot of memories over two decades.

Not all are worth remembering if you’re a
Sharks fan. No doubt, the
Sharks have created more
heartbreaking endings over 20 years since unveiling the famed
stick-biting
Shark logo in 1990.

A playoff season has never ended with a win. Yet, no Bay Area
franchise has enjoyed as much success over the last 13 years as the

Sharks.

And while I would trade it all for one Stanley Cup, being in
contention each season at least provides hope. Of course, it wasn’t
always like this.

San Jose was horrific in its inaugural year like most expansion
teams losing 58 games. I was there for the opener at the Cow Palace
in Daly City when the team’s first overall pick Pat Fallon made his
debut.

It was even worse during the
Sharks second year, losing an NHL
record 71 games, including 17 straight.

Perhaps all the
Sharks needed was to escape the
ghosts of the Cow Palace and move into their new digs in San Jose
for the 1993-94 season.

In their first season at The Tank, the
Sharks won a then franchise record
33 games and grabbed the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Adding to a magical season was the
Sharks seven-game playoff win over
top seed Detroit. When San Jose won Game 5 to take a 3-2 series
lead, no one wanted to leave The Tank.

Chants throughout the concourses and out into downtown San Jose
were “Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup.” Half the fans didn’t even know
what the Stanley Cup was. Didn’t matter.

San Jose was back in the playoffs the following year in a
strike-shortened season that cost them the all-star game.

Behind 18-year-old rookie Jeff Friesen and goalie Arturs Irbe,
San Jose upset Calgary in the first round before Detroit gained a
measure of revenge in the second round. In four years, the
franchise had two postseason series wins.

The next step wasn’t so easy.

A three-year playoff drought was softened somewhat when the
all-star game was played in San Jose in 1998, with sniper Owen
Nolan producing the hat trick.

Nolan pulled a Babe Ruth in the third period on a breakaway when
he pointed at the goalie before wristing one through the net on a
most memorable night.

Over the last 12 years, the
Sharks have gone to the playoffs 11
times, including the last six years.

A trip to the Western Conference finals in 2004 with a youthful
squad portended a bright future. But all the momentum was lost when
the NHL shut down the following season in a lockout.

A slow start out of the gates in 2006 prompted the biggest trade
in franchise history when San Jose acquired future league MVP Joe
Thornton, the team’s first true superstar.

San Jose had tried in the past to acquire stars, landing goalie
Ed Belfour and injured sniper Teemu Salannne. Neither hung around
long enough to know their way around San Jose.

The
Sharks haven’t missed the playoffs
since Thornton has arrived, pairing him today with Patrick Marleau
and Dany Heatley.

Despite the disappointments in the postseason the last five
years, such as blowing a 2-0 series lead and losing four straight
to Edmonton in 2007, or being stunned in the first round in 2009 by
No. 8 seed Anaheim, the franchise has continued to surround
Thornton with pieces.

Three of the teams that have eliminated the
Sharks in the playoffs have gone on
to the Stanley Cup. That gives you an indication of how close this
franchise has been. San Jose is one of five teams to have never
played for the Cup. It doesn’t need to be reminded.

Another sellout greeted the
Sharks on Saturday to celebrate
their 20th anniversary.

Of course, the regular season is a tease to the playoffs. We
know San Jose will be back in the postseason this year.

There are six divisional and one Presidents’ Trophy for the best
overall record banners hanging in the rafters.

The coveted Cup is the treasure. It’s the only prize that
matters this year.

Yes, the
Sharks are celebrating 20 years of
team history. But by the end of the season, the
Sharks hope to be making more
history and that includes closing the chapter on two decades by
hoisting the elusive Stanley Cup.

John Devine can be reached at jdevine@montereyherald.com and
646-4405.