SAN JOSE- While the San Jose Sharks yet again missed out on their goal of winning the Stanley Cup in 2013, the vibe in the locker room on clean out day seemed much different than in years past.
Disappointed, yes, but not the same doom and gloom of recent playoff exits.
Last year saw many things go wrong and they were eliminated by St. Louis in five. In 2011, a number of players gave underwhelming performances (Dany Heatley, Ben Eager, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins come to mind) as they lost to Vancouver in five. And while the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks weren’t going to be denied, that Sharks team had plenty of poor performers as well.
This time around, however, it is incredibly difficult to nitpick, and if you find yourself nitpicking, stop. Just stop. There is absolutely no whipping boy you could possibly pick out of this year’s Sharks.
This year’s Sharks were a bounce away from knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champs, whom many still consider the best team in hockey.
What more can you reasonably ask for as a Sharks fan? It was shocking to me to hear national media rip on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton was unbelievable all playoffs long, Marleau was fantastic against Vancouver and did a lot of good things against LA. Could both have been a bit better in Game 7? Sure, maybe they could have but hindsight is 20-20. We can look back and nitpick, but the Sharks played strong hockey in 11 of their 12 playoff games. Only game they deserved to lose was Game 5 in Los Angeles.
And since they deserved to lose just one game out of the seven against LA, yours truly found it shocking to hear some of his media colleagues confidently state they thought the Kings were the better team.
Logan Couture certainly believes otherwise, calling this year’s exit “more frustrating” because he thinks they were the better team. And they were.
Los Angeles didn’t play a good game at even strength until Game 5. And in Games 6 and 7 the two clubs played each other toe to toe.
When I do the math, the Sharks were the better team in four games, the worse team in one game and even in two.
If you try to argue otherwise, I’ll simply shake my head and give you a stern Sheldon Cooper facial expression.
This is without a doubt the first year since the Joe Thornton trade (2005-06) where there is little to be critical of when it comes to the Sharks performance in the playoffs. Many of the players acknowledged that they felt their game was where right where it had to be.
“It was right there for us, that’s the toughest part.” commented Joe Pavelski. “We were a bounce or two short. The belief was definitely there. Rather go out this way, fighting and getting a lot out of everybody than the other way.”
“The belief in the room and the way we played was really strong” chimed Marleau. “We felt we were going to go really far this year. I think everybody thought it was our year the way we came together as a group so it’s a little bit tougher that way but at least you can look yourself in the mirror and be happy with the way we played.”
“We felt we played great.” added captain Joe Thornton. “We played our best games coming down the stretch and that’s all you want as a team. We were happy with the way we played and that’s it.”
“We were that close to moving on and that’s frustrating” confirmed Dan Boyle. “That said, we came a long way from where we were a couple months ago. I’ve been here five years now and we have something really good going. [Losing] is frustrating but [I'm] proud of the way we competed, we were that close.”
The 2010 Blackhawks were a better team.
The 2011 Canucks were a better team.
The 2012 Blues were a better team.
The 2013 Kings might just repeat as Stanley Cup champions, but they weren’t the better team. And that ought to be at least a minor consolation for the Sharks to hang their hats on.
No, the Sharks didn’t achieve their goal, but this was the first year in history that their top-to-bottom performance was championship worthy.
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