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Sharks season ends early -- again

by Eric Stephens
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- An uneasy silence pierced the San Jose Sharks’ dressing room Monday night after a playoff defeat put another premature end to their season.

It’s a feeling that is becoming all too common for the Sharks, who only added another layer to their reputation as a regular-season powerhouse that can’t get it done in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But this time, there won’t be any questions to answer about their inability to get past the second round. Instead, the Sharks will have to deal with a shocking first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks after being eliminated with a 4-1 loss in Game 6 at the Honda Center.

A season that included franchise records of 53 wins and 117 points along with a Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion ended in more disappointment.

"We can go into the details, who and what, but the bottom line is that they were a better team than us," said San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was outplayed by Anaheim's Jonas Hiller in the series. "That’s unfortunate. It’s not like we played badly. We battled, we fought, but that's what happens when you lose the first two games at home.

"They've got you by the throat and they keep you down. We were never able to recover at the first two losses."

The Ducks gained that 2-0 series lead with wins at San Jose and then answered a Game 3 loss with a dominating 4-0 Game 4 victory at home – the second time the Sharks had been shut out in the series.

Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, the Sharks’ two biggest stars, arose from their series slumber to lead their team to a 3-2 overtime win in Game 5. But outside of a fight between Thornton and the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf right after the opening faceoff, neither "Jumbo Joe" nor the Sharks' captain was a factor in Game 6.

"It’s just opportunities we let slip away," Marleau said. "We didn’t rise to the forefront when those opportunities came up to make the most of them."

First-year coach Todd McLellan, who won a Stanley Cup ring with Detroit last spring before taking over after Ron Wilson was let go, said management will look to see what changes have to be made after the team's latest playoff disappointment.

"The lesson has to be learned that you can't give games away," he said. "My recollection is that may be history here a little bit. We'll have to look at how we can change that."

Milan Michalek got his first point of the series when he scored San Jose’s only goal against Hiller, who made 36 saves in another sterling performance. The second line of Michalek, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski combined for just two goals.

Anaheim’s defense, led by Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, held a decisive edge in a battle of talented blue lines.

"They just outplayed us," Sharks defenseman Rob Blake said. "They did it again tonight. They made it really hard for us to sustain any pressure. And when we did, their goalie made the saves."

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