It was all over, on a Saturday night in St. Louis, and it wasn’t in the script that the San Jose Sharks had written for themselves. They were shaking hands with the St. Louis Blues, after losing the Western Conference Quarterfinal round to the team that had nearly captured the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.
It was all over in a blink of an eye, a five-sentence paragraph that ended with an empty-net exclamation point from Andy McDonald, the speedy forward who was such a dominant thorn in the side of the San Jose Sharks for an entire playoff series. A second exclamation point was added by the subsequent explosion of the capacity crowd at Scottrade Center and so ended the San Jose’s quest for the 2012 Stanley Cup championship.
Without question, the early playoff exit brings back the memory of the spring of 2009 when San Jose was eliminated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks in six games. Let’s not forget that after reevaluating that disappointment, the Sharks made two long runs to the Western Conference Final and were definitive Stanley Cup challengers.
After the too-quick ending this spring, the team will evaluate and will take a positive step forward again, with only the Stanley Cup on their minds. This condition is not unique to the Sharks. It is also happening in cities like Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, and depending on how Game Seven turns out in New York and in Boston, more cities could be added to the list.
For the first time since 2006, the playoff race is absolutely wide open, which is very exciting for hockey, but it is also a missed opportunity for the Men in Teal. At Sharks Ice at San Jose on Tuesday, players, coaches and management had a final team meeting, somberly cleared out their lockers, and met with the media. They didn’t want to be there, of course, even though it was clear that many exciting things occurred during the journey that led to this day.
For now, the focus will be on statistics like the Sharks special teams numbers in the playoffs (11.8% PP and 66.7% PK), compared with a 21.1% PP (2nd in NHL) and 76.9% PK (29th in NHL) in the regular season. There will be notice of a 12-0-3 regular season record when leading on the road after two periods, juxtaposed with a 1-0 second intermission lead in Game Five followed by a St. Louis win. There will be memories of a pivotal second goal against in Game Two of the series, when the Blues were rewarded for executing their game plan to perfection, after which the Sharks were not able to plant any seeds of doubt in the St. Louis locker room.
During the season, there were ten new players who skated in a Sharks uniform, and there will be new additions with some subtractions next year as is always the case. There were injuries, strange bounces of the puck, a couple of goaltending mishaps and a number of other things that did not go the team’s way. It was certainly frustrating for the Sharks and none of it will be soon forgotten.
But there were also some good things that happened and they need to be remembered right alongside the disappointments. The Sharks had three 30-goal scorers in Logan Couture
, Joe Pavelski
(both with 31) and Patrick Marleau
(30). Their captain, Joe Thornton
, once again led the team in scoring and showcased tremendous leadership from the moment of the first faceoff to the very end of the team’s playoff quest. He was the team’s best player in the postseason.
Young skaters like Justin Braun
and Tommy Wingels
showed that they were looking to earn spots in the next generation of core players on the team’s roster. That was encouraging news.
There were some memorable games too, including the opening night victory over Phoenix that saw six power play goals divided between the teams. Also a tremendous 1-0 win over Philadelphia that put the team back on track after a disappointing 2-6-1 road trip in February.
The 2011-12 season featured two home wins against Detroit, including a big overtime goal for Marty Havlat on March 17th, and a 10-5-2 stretch run that produced some big wins against Dallas and Los Angeles, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for an eighth consecutive hockey season.
All players and coaches will deposit their 2011-12 memories into a personal reservoir of experience to draw upon in future seasons, whether they are playing for the Sharks or another team. The symbolic moment that will draw all of the experiences together and motivate the next year will be that final handshake at center ice at Scottrade Center, while all of St. Louis exploded in celebration. As my broadcast partner Jamie Baker always says, “Remember the handshake,” and that’s true whether you win or lose the last game of the year.
For now, let’s make sure that we follow the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the radio and on television all the way to the final handshake, and the winning captain’s convergence with Gary Bettman at center ice. It is an unbelievable Stanley Cup Playoff race that is wide open, and there are surely more great stories to come that you’ll need to pay attention to in the coming weeks.
A huge thank you goes to our many listeners who tune in for each and every Sharks game, home and away, on Classic Rock KFOX 98.5/102.1 FM and the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. I’m looking forward to getting together with you there again soon.