ST. LOUIS — It was Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez who helped popularize the phrase “I’d rather be lucky than good,” but it’s a mantra that can frequently apply to hockey.
The San Jose Sharks have been quite good in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. They hold a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals against the St. Louis Blues. They’ve won two Game 7s. They’re averaging 3.29 goals per game and have the playoffs’ leading scorer in Logan Couture (20 points).
But they’ve also been lucky. Some would argue really, really lucky. They rallied in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1 thanks to a five-minute major penalty called on Knights forward Cody Eakin that should have been, at best, a two-minute minor. The NHL apologized to Vegas for the error, and the officials who worked that game haven’t worked again in the playoffs.
There was the coach’s challenge in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2, where Gabriel Landeskog was ruled offside while changing at the bench — a rare call, although correctly called in that game. On Wednesday, there was the hand pass by Timo Meier that all four officials missed in overtime that led to Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal.
Just don’t use the L-word around the Sharks. They don’t believe they’ve been lucky. They believe they’ve been good.
“It irks me when you use words like that because this team has played four or five elimination games. Not moments — games,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “Twelve to 15 periods of elimination hockey against Vegas, against Colorado in Game 7, so I think it’s a ridiculous statement.
“You know what? We’ve found a way. And we’ve faced a lot of adversity. We’ve had calls go against us and we’ve had calls go for us, and we’re still standing. For anybody to minimize that, I think is disrespectful to our group and what we’ve done.”
Sharks players echoed their coach.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a lucky team who’s won,” forward Evander Kane said. “I think at the end of the day, it boils down to finding ways to win, and every team goes through adversity throughout the course of the playoffs. We’ve battled throughout these playoffs. There’s been a lot of different types of scenarios that haven’t gone our way that we’ve been able to push through and find a way to be successful.”
Forward Gus Nyquist said that even if the breaks the Sharks have gotten could be considered lucky, they still had to take advantage of them — or, in the case of Game 3 against the Blues, put themselves in position to benefit from them.
“I wouldn’t say we’re lucky,” said Nyquist. “[Against Vegas], our first-unit power play executed that to perfection. They scored four goals in five minutes. In Game 3, [Couture] comes up clutch and ties the game. We battle through. We know we’re never out of a game until it’s over.”
Center Tomas Hertl said it agitates him when the team’s accomplishments are minimized as a product of good fortune.
“We’re battling. We had two seven-game series. We’re battling through a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “I don’t think it’s lucky. We just work for it. I don’t care what everybody’s saying. We deserve to win. I don’t like ‘lucky’ overall. If you work for it, you deserve it.”