SAN JOSE -- What started as a season filled with promise for the San Jose Sharks ended with the fastest exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in team history.
The Sharks reached the Western Conference Final in each of the past two seasons. But instead of taking the next step in their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, the Sharks lost their quarterfinals series to St. Louis in just five games this year.
The Blues ended the series Saturday night at Scottrade Center with a 3-1 win in Game 5.
“It's a terrible feeling right now,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the loss. “Hats off to the Blues. They played great. But it sucks right now.”
Here are the five biggest reasons why the Sharks' quest for the Stanley Cup came up woefully short.
1. Offensive pullback
The Sharks scored only eight goals in five playoff games against St. Louis, but their problems putting the puck in the net didn't just emerge in the postseason. One season after ranking sixth in the NHL at 2.96 goals per game, the Sharks dropped to No. 13 at 2.67. They scored only 228 goals, 20 fewer than the past season.
BLUES VS. SHARKS
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By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent
It wasn't the St. Louis' Blues' skill players that helped eliminate the San Jose Sharks Saturday night. Chalk one up for the grizzly, old veterans. Check one off for the grind line.
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What went wrong? Well, when the Sharks traded Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in separate off-season deals to Minnesota, they lost a combined 48 goals and 105 points from the 2010-11 team. The Sharks expected top-six forward Martin Havlat, acquired in the Heatley deal, to fill some of that scoring void and help replace Setoguchi's speed. But Havlat played only 22 regular-season games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries.
Havlat missed 39 straight games after undergoing hamstring surgery in mid-December. He returned for the final 13 regular-season games and scored two goals in the Sharks' 3-2 victory against St. Louis in Game 1, including the game-winner in the second overtime, but that was his last goal of the series. Havlat, understandably, never got back to full strength or full speed after his hamstring surgery.
The Sharks didn't have as much offensive depth this season and got little production from their bottom two lines. Last season Joe Pavelski centered the third line. This season he was the right wing on the top line.
To compound the Sharks' offensive problems, forwards Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe had rougher than expected years. Marleau dropped from 37 goals in 2010-11 to just 30 this season, his lowest total since a 19-goal nightmare in 2007-08. Clowe dropped from 24 goals to 17. Marleau didn't have a single point in the playoffs, while Clowe had three assists, but no goals.
Add to that Pavelski's mysterious scoring drought against St. Louis. After scoring 31 goals during the regular season – he tied Logan Couture for the team lead – Pavelski didn't have a single point in this playoff series, despite numerous good scoring chances.
2. No help at the trade deadline
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson made a few minor deals at the trade deadline but not the blockbuster trade for a player such as Columbus' Rick Nash that might have put San Jose in better position to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wilson acquired forward Dominic Moore and a seventh-round draft pick in 2012 from Tampa Bay for a second-round pick this year. Then he sent forward Jamie McGinn and two prospects to Colorado for forwards Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi.
Moore didn't score a single goal in the regular season or playoffs. Galiardi had one goal in the regular season – his only point as a Shark. Of the three additions, Winnik was by far the most productive for the Sharks. He had three goals in the regular season and an assist in the playoffs and was a solid two-way player.
The Sharks struggled to incorporate so many new players into their lineup and seemed out of sync for a long stretch after those deals. And by trading McGinn, the Sharks offense lost even more firepower. McGinn had 12 goals and 12 assists in 61 games for the Sharks. Then he had eight goals and five assists in just 17 games for Colorado.
3. Tough matchup
San Jose couldn't have had a worse quarterfinals matchup than St. Louis, the NHL's top defensive team this season. The Sharks lost all four games to St. Louis in regulation during the regular season. They were shut out twice – once each by Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott – and outscored 11-3 during the four losses.
The Blues' swarming, lock-down defense confounded and frustrated the Sharks, especially the top-six forwards, who are better suited to a more wide-open game with more open ice to maneuver. The Sharks did much of their offensive damage this season by sending pucks to the net and then scoring on rebounds. But Elliott, who took over after Halak was injured early in the second period of Game 2, rarely allowed a rebound.
In St. Louis, the Sharks faced a younger, faster and, it could be argued, hungrier team. The Sharks would likely have had a better chance against any of the other playoff teams in the conference.
4. Killer PK problems
The Sharks' penalty kill ranked No. 29 during the regular season, and they were just as bad if not worse against St. Louis in the postseason. The Sharks went 12-for-18 on the penalty kill. St. Louis scored three power play goals in its 4-3 victory in Game 3 at San Jose, all but toying with San Jose's penalty killers. In St. Louis' 2-1 victory in Game 4, Andy McDonald scored the game-winner on a power play that resulted when Marleau was penalized for interference during a Sharks power play.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan spent the entire season trying to fix the penalty kill, and it did improve during the stretch run when the Sharks were fighting just to get into the playoffs. But once the puck dropped in the postseason, the Sharks' penalty kill reverted to its prior bad form.
Veteran center Michal Handzus, a free-agent pickup, was expected to help the penalty kill, but he struggled all season and was rarely in the lineup down the stretch. The Sharks might have to find some better penalty killers and come up with a more aggressive PK game plan.
5. Burns' tough transition
The Sharks swung a huge off-season deal to acquire Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns in an effort to shore up a blue line that lacked depth and firepower in 2010-11. Burns was coming off a career season with the Wild. He had 17 goals, 29 assists and 46 points – all career highs. But in his first season as a Shark, Burns dropped to 11 goals, 26 assists and 37 points.
Burns' transition to a new team and a new system turned out to be tougher than most expected. He improved down the stretch but never became the dynamic force the Sharks expected to see.
The Sharks made two other moves to strengthen the blue line, signing free-agent defensemen Colin White and Jim Vandermeer. Both of them struggled at times and spent long stretches out of the lineup. White played 54 games and Vandermeer just 25.
The Sharks allowed just 2.5 goals per game, tying for eighth in the NHL. That's a slight improvement from 2010-11 when they were 10th at 2.54 goals allowed per game.