SAN JOSE, Calif. — Well, the shark head is sort of intimidating.
It is lowered from the rafters at SAP Center before each San Jose hockey game, one of the league’s more impressive props at 25 years old, and from its mouth the Sharks skate onto the ice to a thunderous ovation.
“A great atmosphere,” said Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb. “They come out firing here just like us at home.”
Home ice for San Jose in the first round of this best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series means for the Knights to advance they would have to win at least one game — and perhaps more — in a place the Sharks were terrific over a majority of the season.
Which they did in dramatic fashion Friday night, rallying for a 5-3 victory to tie the series at one game apiece after squandering a three-goal lead in the first period.
San Jose finished 25-11-5 at home, but consider: Six of those losses came after March 13, when key players were nursing injuries and it became more and more apparent the Sharks would finish second in the Pacific Division.
“You can only rely so much on your own fans,” said Knights forward Alex Tuch. “Home ice advantage only means so much. You have to come out and create your own confidence and momentum. The (SAP Center) isn’t an easy place to play. They’re loud, they get on you. But we’re pros. You have to be able to shut that out.”
When things get going inside the SAP, few arenas in the NHL deliver as much or more energy. The Knights know of such passion, given how difficult visiting players around the league have described T-Mobile Arena in which to find success.
It becomes more important, then, for a road team to gain an early lead against the Sharks.
That goes double for the Knights.
If you think San Jose players don’t like their rivals from the desert, you should hear the deafening boos when the part about, “gave proof through the NIGHT,” arrives during the national anthem.
Yes. Fans here know all too well about any tradition tied to the playoff opponent, and given the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 here last season by the Knights, feelings of bitterness and revenge are paramount for those supporting San Jose in this series.
“You have to do a good job with your energy level,” said Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt. “You have to be ready for their push in a building like this. It’s a hard place to play, which is what you’re looking for as the home team in the playoffs. The fans feed off their team here, and it’s our job to keep them quiet.”
As the story goes, it was October 1993 and the Sharks were preparing for their first home game in what was then the San Jose Arena. Players were informed that when they entered the ice, they would do so through a Shark’s mouth and fog.
The warning: Don’t trip over one of its massive teeth.
It’s something, all right.
“New year, new team, so we can’t take much from closing out (a series) here or reflect at all on last season,” McNabb said. “We also can’t worry about a Game 5 or 6 to 7 or anything like that right now. We know we can win games here. That’s the bottom line. Just worry about whenever the next game is. That’s all we can control.”
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.