SAN JOSE -- We begin with the Sharks where we always begin with the Sharks before the postseason begins.
Should we salute them for what they have accomplished?
Or should we taunt and disparage them for what they have not?
Let's start with the salute. The Sharks will soon fly to Vancouver for their first playoff game. For the ninth consecutive season, the Sharks are in the postseason. That's difficult to do. We know this because no other Bay Area major professional team has accomplished it.
The 49ers once made eight straight playoff trips. But eight is not nine. The rest of our local franchises, from the A's to the Earthquakes to the Raiders to the Giants to the Warriors, have also come up short of that number.
The difference, of course, is that each of those six other Bay Area franchises has won at least one ultimate championship -- the Super Bowl, World Series, whatever. Some teams have won several. The Sharks have won zero Stanley Cups.
And that has always been the paradox for our beloved Los Tiburones. They are more frequently remembered for their failures rather than for their successes. Yet the Sharks tease with the promise of eminence and excellence, fall short, then self-flagellate. Will it be different this time?
Seems unlikely, on the face of it. This is hardly the best Shark team during the nine-season playoff streak. The best was that 2008-09 outfit that won the Presidents' Trophy for finishing with the NHL's top overall record. That Shark team's roster had speed and depth and strength. That Shark team went through a stretch of 31 games without a regulation defeat.
And it lost in the first playoff round to Anaheim.
Only an idiot, then, would attempt to forecast the playoff fate of the current Sharks. I intend to be an idiot because I will make a prediction about this first-round matchup against the Canucks. I think they are about the best opponents the Sharks could have chosen at this juncture.
And it's not strictly because Vancouver was 0-3 against the Sharks this season, with two regulation losses at HP Pavilion and a shootout defeat last month in British Columbia.
It's also not because many Sharks sincerely feel they owe Vancouver a little payback from the Canucks' victory in the conference finals two years ago, where the series-winning goal was scored on a fluky bouncing-puck play.
No. It's because right now, at least from the outside looking in, the Canucks are patching together their lineup with players who have either just returned from injuries or may be fighting their way through medical issues.
Examples: Kevin Bieksa, the Canucks' best defenseman, sustained a lower body injury that limited his playing and practice time over the past month. Ryan Kesler, the annoyingly effective centerman, missed 19 games in March with a fractured right foot that surely cannot be totally healed.
And how about this? Vancouver starting goalie Cory Schneider missed the last two regular season games because of a previously undisclosed "body injury," whatever that means. In hockey, teams usually designate injuries as "lower body" or "upper body." Schneider must either have damaged eyebrows and bruised toes or -- more likely -- the Canucks don't want to tell the Sharks where they should attack him with their shots.
Plus, if Schneider can't suit up for Game 1, things will become even more strange. Vancouver will be forced to use backup goalie Robert Luongo. He's created drama in B.C. because the Canucks are saddled to his rich long-term contract and were openly trying to deal him away before the trade deadline.
The Sharks, of course, have had their own issues. They were impressive early in the season, horrible in the middle, then somewhere between acceptable and solid down the stretch. And they've worked through their own injury problems as coach Todd McLellan tried to assemble four acceptable forward lines with Band-Aids and putty. Without goalie Antti Niemi having such a spectacular season, who knows where they'd be?
"We're like a lot of teams," McLellan said last week. "We've put a lot of gritty, grinding hours into getting where we are, playing 48 games in less than 100 days."
Neither the Canucks nor the Sharks score a lot of goals (they were 19th and 24th in the NHL). Neither team is insanely physical. On paper, at least, the games should be low-scoring affairs with power plays as decisive moments. Given all those factors, the call here is for a long series -- six or seven games -- with an eventual Shark victory.
But beyond that, in the second or third round? Let's wait for the matchup first. And see who's left standing.
SHARKS VS. VANCOUVER
Wednesday: at Canucks,
Friday: at Canucks, 7 p.m.
Sunday: at Sharks, 7 p.m.
May 7: at Sharks, 7 p.m.
*May 9: at Canucks, TBA
*May 11: at San Jose, TBA
*May 13: at Canucks, TBA
* if necessary