(Have you guys all seen The Prestige? It's really great. If you have a couple of free hours today, like if you're lucky and are unemployed or something, you should definitely go watch it. Aside from The Dark Knight, it's Christopher Nolan's best film*.)
It's fair to say that hockey, more so than football, baseball, or basketball, requires teams to struggle against luck, chance, and unpredictability in order to make things go their way. Successful players and teams aren't great due to chance, but in spite of it. Against the inexorable averaging hand of luck, great players and teams find a way to win consistently.
Hockey is a sport that involves imposing your will in a chaotic situation. It takes place at high speeds on a slippery surface, and even "simple" tasks like passing to a teammate face constant obstacles in the form of inconsistent ice and forests of sticks and skates in the way of the puck. Masters of the game find the needle of victory in the haystack of defeat.
In short: good teams find a way to win, even when the odds are against them. Good hockey teams make the improbable happen regularly.
Good teams make magic happen.
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't.
The Sharks have done "The Pledge" for years now. They've come in to seasons as favorites to win their division and are frequently predicted to go far in the playoffs. Over the regular season hockey fans get a chance to check out the Sharks and see what they can do, and the Sharks have consistently performed well. They've won division titles and frequently eclipsed 100 points. The management makes the right moves to improve the team, and fans go into the post-season with good reasons to be confident.
The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary.
This is the part where the Sharks have struggled in years past. They haven't been able to capture that secret something that turns an ordinary successful season into something special. Their regular season magic fails them, and the big black top-hat remains bereft of rabbits.
Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".
At last: the elusive Prestige. Last year the Sharks got close. Through the first two rounds, they looked like David Copperfield - but then they ended up like Gob Bluth. They successfully pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but then all the little kids at the party screamed and ran because the rabbit was actually DEAD!
Where was I going with this? Metaphors are hard.
Oh yeah - the question remains: is this the year the Sharks pull off "The Prestige"? Is this post-season run going to have enough magic in it?
So far at least, it sure feels like it.
San Jose's playoff run thus far almost feels scripted specifically to piss off people who like to think of them as "chokers."
This article, which gains points for including the first non-ironic use of "moxie" by a journalist since 1931, details the Sharks' amazing success this year in playoff overtimes. Joe Thornton is playing some of the best hockey of his life and has been a factor in four of the Sharks' five OT game-winning goals. The Sharks are getting goals at key times from up and down their roster, from Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski to Niclas Wallin and some guy named Benn Ferriero.
The point is, the Sharks are finding ways to win. They're making magic happen.
Sweeping the Red Wings tonight would be a hell of a magic trick...but win or lose tonight, the show's not over. The big finish is what it's all about.
Prediction: Sharks' passion is equal to the task. San Jose wins 3-2 in OT. Goals by White, Clowe, and Pavelski with the game winner.
* = For those interested, the proper arrangement of Christopher Nolan's films, ranked by awesomeness, goes like this: