When you reach the Stanley Cup Final, you enter the next season with a target on your back. But there's something about getting the best game from the opposition that brings out the best in the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks enter Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres in KeyBank Center on an 8-1-1 streak, including winning their last four games on the road.
"You definitely have a target when you’ve been to the final the year before or you’re the Western Conference champion," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said Tuesday morning after his team had a pre-game skate. "I think it’s great motivation for the other coach. I’ve used that a lot of times when the shoe’s on the other foot. We see a lot of teams' best efforts and they’re dialed in and they know if they don’t show up and play really well they’re probably not going to win and we usually get a real good effort out of the other team. Our battle is making sure that we respect that and understand that.
"I think we’re understanding, like last year at this time, that you don’t just turn it on for the playoffs. That it’s a build to the playoffs. Last year we started to crank it up around this time, too and we want to continue to do that."
The Sharks lead the Pacific Division with 69 points and are tied for second in the Western Conference with Chicago, four points behind Minnesota.
But the Sharks haven't had much success against in the Sabres in Buffalo. In fact, the team has won only two games in Buffalo in San Jose franchise history - Dec. 2, 2005 and last season, an overtime win for the Sharks on Nov. 14, 2015. The Sabres are 16-1-1 all-time in Buffalo against the Sharks.
"I don’t what it is," Sharks' forward Patrick Marleau said of the lack of success against the Sabres. "We’re getting them on the start of our trip now, so that’s a little different. It’s one of those things where we’ve had some issues in the past and we know that. It's a challenge for our group and hopefully we’ll be up for it tonight."
The Sharks arrived in Buffalo on Monday to start a four-game East Coast swing which takes them to Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The Sabres, meanwhile, landed in Buffalo in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after a 2-1 loss to the Devils in New Jersey. But the Sharks don't take the Sabres, tied for last in the Eastern Conference, lightly.
"They’re a dangerous team," DeBoer said of the Sabres. "You look at their lines on the board and their lineup, you know they’ve got a deep team. They’ve got three lines capable of scoring and I like the mixture on their fourth line - they've got some younger guys and some energy. It’s a good hockey team. We haven’t had a lot of success in here over the years. We broke that streak last year and want to continue that but this is going to be a tough game for us."