SAN JOSE - One of the major storylines entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season was the San Jose Sharks and their pursuit of a championship for 39-year-old forward Joe Thornton, who has yet to hoist the Stanley Cup in a 21-year career that has included 1,566 regular-season games split between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks.
But let's not forget about a guy on the other side - St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester - who has played in 1,184 regular-season games over 16 seasons and is also still searching for his first Stanley Cup.
"That's part of the reason why he's still playing. That's the end game," Bouwmeester said of Thornton, alluding to the fact that the Sharks' forward is trying to capture the ultimate prize. "When you're young, a lot of things are different. You think you're going to play forever, you think you're going to have all the success in the world… It takes awhile to learn what it's all about, but you also learn pretty quick how hard it is (to win)."
Bouwmeester, 35, ranks third among active players in games played without a championship, while Thornton ranks second. Only Toronto's Patrick Marleau (1,657 regular-season games) has waited longer, and he spent all but two seasons of his 21-year career with the Sharks.
Both Marleau and Thornton have had their chances. Marleau (191 playoff games) has been to the playoffs in all but two of his NHL seasons, and Thornton (175 playoff games) has been there in all but four.
Video: Bouwmeester not taking playoff run for granted
Bouwmeester, on the other hand, began his career with the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames, neither of which reached the postseason during his tenure. It wasn't until Bouwmeester arrived in St. Louis in the 2012-13 season that he got his first chance to experience playoff hockey.
"For me, it took a long time to get to the playoffs," Bouwmeester said. "When I got the opportunity coming here to St. Louis, I definitely didn't under-appreciate it because it had taken so long to get here. We've had some really good teams along the way here, and you learn so much more playing on good teams. It would be great to play your first year and win a Cup and all that - and for guys like (Blues rookie) Robert Thomas and guys that come in their first year playing on a good team, (playing) significant games and really contributing in the playoffs, you can't get that experience anywhere."
In seven seasons with the Blues, Bouwmeester has now accumulated 64 career playoff games, 20 of which came in 2016 when the Blues reached the Western Conference Final.
Now that the Blues are seven wins away from hockey's biggest prize, Bouwmeester realizes that this could be his best chance at capturing a championship.
If he does, it's a sure bet it will have been worth the wait.