On their way to a last-place finish in 2002-03, the San Jose Sharks fired their coach and general manager, and traded away their captain.
What a difference a year makes.
San Jose can clinch the Pacific Division title when it faces a Los Angeles Kings club it has dominated over the past few seasons.
The Sharks won the division in 2001-02, but last season was the first time in six years that they didn’t improve their point total from the previous season. They finished 14th in the Western Conference.
The club’s leadership took the fall for the poor result. Coach Darryl Sutter was fired on Dec. 1, 2002, Owen Nolan was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 5, 2003, and general manager Dean Lombardi was fired two weeks later.
The wholesale changes had the desired effect. San Jose came back strong this season, and with a 2-1 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday, reached the 100-point mark for the first time in team history.
“I’ve seen these players’ determination, and that’s all I have to see,” coach Ron Wilson said. “Nobody expected this, not even me. But these guys have something special going on.”
The Sharks are in second place in the West, four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
“We’ve grown a lot. We’ve learned to trust each other and buy into the system,” Sharks center Vincent Damphousse said. “It would be pushing it (before the season) to think we could get 100 points, but there’s a confidence building on this team that we can do well in the playoffs.”
Los Angeles’ battle for a playoff berth ended Monday when they were eliminated with a 2-1 loss to the Avs. The Kings are 0-7-0-1 in their last eight games, their longest losing streak since 1983-84.
“We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish,” Kings coach Andy Murray said. “It’s disappointing not to make the playoffs. When you work as hard as we worked all year, it is difficult not to get in.”
Los Angeles has had trouble with San Jose over the past two years. The Kings are 0-3-1 against the Sharks this season, and have one regulation victory in the last 10 games in the series since April 2002.
The Kings and Sharks meet again in San Jose on the last day of the regular season.
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Dwight King LW