Five of the NHL's top draft prospects sat around a table Monday, chatting among themselves while munching on donuts. The NHL was showcasing the youngsters to the media gathered at the Stanley Cup Final in San Jose, and they had just finished their interview obligations.
"Enjoy the game tonight," one veteran scribe told them. "Loudest barn in the league."
Yes, the Shark Tank quickly established itself around the NHL for its volume level after opening its doors in 1993. Particularly as some of the older rinks around the league, like Chicago Stadium, were bulldozed, San Jose gained the reputation for being the rink where they really bring the noise.
Of course, it helped that the Sharks have been fielding competitive teams for nearly two decades.
Despite its lack of a Stanley Cup, the Sharks have in many ways been the poster child for expansion success. Since 1997-98, the Sharks have missed the playoffs just twice and consistently play to near-capacity crowds. The popularity of the team has also fed into the growth of hockey in the so-called non-traditional markets.
That's why it was such an interesting juxtaposition to have Auston Matthews, the top rated prospect, in San Jose for this occasion. Matthews is from Scottsdale, Arizona, which has hardly been a pipeline of professional hockey talent. But with expansion teams in warm-weather towns like Anaheim and Tampa Bay winning Stanley Cups in the new millennium and two titles in the past five years for Los Angeles, the youth movement has gained steam in those regions.
"It has been growing a lot," Matthews said. "Not only in Arizona but in California and Texas and Florida, so it's pretty cool to see more players come out of these areas and be able to succeed and move on to high levels."
Matthews and his fellow prospects also got a chance to meet some of the Sharks. This included Joe Thornton, picked first overall pick in 1997 -- three months before Matthews was born.
"He said to enjoy the experience, that it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Matthews said.
Thornton was talking about the draft, but he could have easily been referring to the Stanley Cup Final. It took him and Patrick Marleau 18 seasons to reach it. It took the Sharks 25 years. Now their Cup Final experience could be finished by Thursday.
The Penguins captured Game 4, 3-1, and lead the series by the same count as their speed has troubled the Sharks in every game. To San Jose's credit, this was the first game not decided by a single goal, but it has also been clear that Pittsburgh has dictated terms for the bulk of the action.
Given the theme of a franchise finally reaching the biggest stage, the Sharks were the sentimental favorites heading into this series, and that it isn't to shortchange what they accomplished on the ice in the Western Conference playoffs. But this series, with the way it has developed, has served as a reminder that the Penguins have two elite players in their prime in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin, who hadn't posted a point in the first three games, was the difference in Game 4. His pass to Phil Kessel set up the Penguins' first goal, ultimately scored by Ian Cole. Then he converted from the doorstep on the power play, thanks to a pinpoint feed from Kessel.
The Penguins need just one more win for their second Stanley Cup in the Crosby era. At least publicly, Crosby isn't ready to celebrate.
"You just have to understand that it's going to take our best," Crosby said. "We're going to see their absolute best. Understanding that, you can't get caught looking ahead of things. We've had a great approach all season long, all playoff long, making sure we stay in the moment. That'll be important now, more than ever."
Thanks to Malkin, Crosby, Kessel and goaltender Matt Murray, the barn at the corner of Santa Clara and Autumn in San Jose wasn't quite as loud as it wanted to be Monday. Now the Penguins are counting on not giving it another chance to roar until October.
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