“I thought we played great all year long,” Thornton said from the Sharks’ dressing room. “We can’t hang our heads. We played great. Since Day 1 of training camp we focused this year. I’m proud of this group.”
Despite the painful, disappointing 4-0 series loss to Chicago, the Sharks, indeed, had plenty to be proud of this season.
The Sharks finished the regular-season with 113 points, the most in the Western Conference and second only to Washington’s 121 in the NHL.
One year after getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round by eighth-seeded Anaheim, the Sharks reached the Western Conference Finals for just the second time in team history.
After their stunning first-round exit last year, the Sharks went on a mission to become a grittier, more resilient team. General manager Doug Wilson shuffled the roster. He traded for Dany Heatley and added veteran free agents such as Scott Nichol and Manny Malhotra and home-grown youngsters such as Logan Couture
, Jamie McGinn and Jason Demers
to the mix. Wilson and coach Todd McLellan challenged the returning veterans to be tougher and more focused.
That increased grit and resiliency was evident in the first round after Colorado took a 2-1 series lead with a stunning 1-0 overtime win that could have devastated the Sharks. The Sharks, though, bounced back for a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4 then closed out the series with 5-0 and 5-2 victories.
The Sharks were gritty enough to grab a 3-0 series lead against the storied Detroit Red Wings then finish them off at home in Game 5 before a raucous, sellout crowd at HP Pavilion.
Despite getting swept by Chicago, the Sharks battled every game against a young, talented Blackhawks team that reached the conference finals for the second straight season. The Sharks suffered a one-goal defeat in Games 1 and again in Game 3, an overtime loss. In Game 4 they had a 2-0 lead and trailed 3-2 late before Chicago scored an empty-netter. Even after falling behind 3-0 in Game 2, the Sharks kept fighting but came up short in a 4-2 loss.
“There will be a lot of people that are going to say it was a one-way series,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle
said after Sunday night’s loss. “That’s fine. But anyone who knows anything about hockey knows that three of those four games certainly could have gone our way.”
McLellan said he still believes strongly in his team.
“We’ve come a long way as an organization,” McLellan said after Sunday’s loss. “We won the Presidents’ Trophy last year. We went into a situation against Anaheim where we didn’t play very well. You know, we held an evaluation of our team that was very intense and we scrutinized it very closely. A number of players were put on notice. We made a number of changes. What we did was we fought through the season. We’ve come a long way.
“Six of our players on tonight’s roster had played in this series before. Other than that, nobody else had experienced it. Only two were Sharks at the time. We’ve gained a lot of experience. I think we can look at what the Blackhawks did last year and how they grew through losing. Sometimes it’s part of the process.”
The Sharks had plenty of team and individual highlights throughout the regular season and playoffs. As usual, San Jose was an offensive force during the regular season, averaging 3.13 goals per game to rank fourth in the NHL.
Thornton ranked fourth in the NHL with 89 points, Marleau 14th with 83 and Heatley 15th with 82. Marleau scored 44 goals, fourth most in the league, while Heatley had 39 to finish eighth. Thornton had 69 assists, No. 2 in the NHL. Boyle had 58 points, fourth most among defensemen.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov turned in another solid season, posting 44 wins – second most in the NHL – while ranking second in total saves (1,998), sixth in save percentage (.922) and 10th in goals against average (2.43).
As a team, the Sharks ranked No. 1 in faceoff percentage, winning 55.6 percent, and they excelled on special teams. Their power play ranked tied for fourth at 21.0 percent and their penalty kill fifth at 85.0 percent.Joe Pavelski
introduced himself to the hockey world during the first two rounds of the playoffs, centering a line that included Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe
. From Game 2 against Colorado through Game 3 against Detroit, Pavelski scored nine goals – three of those game-winners – and totaled 15 points.
Late in that amazing run, Pavelski had three straight games with two goals and three points. He finished the playoffs with a team-high 17 points.
After a tremendous regular-season, Marleau got off to slow start in the first round against Colorado, but he heated up in the final two rounds, displaying all of his skills as a skater and scorer.
Marleau scored two game-winning goals against Detroit, including the series-clincher in Game 5. Then against Chicago, he scored five goals in four games, two each in Games 2 and 3.
Thornton played a physical brand of hockey throughout the playoffs. He was at his best offensively against the Red Wings. He scored three goals, including a game-winner, and racked up eight points in five games against Detroit.
Nabokov played a huge role in the Sharks’ first-round win over Colorado. He allowed two or fewer goals in five of six games against the Avalanche. For the postseason, he allowed an average of 2.56 goals per game and had a save percentage of .907.
“You’ve got to give Chicago credit,” McLellan said after the Game 4 loss. “They’re a helluva team. They seem very destined right now. They have a goaltender that’s on fire.
“They certainly deserved the series," continued McLellan. "I thought we played hard with them. We competed with them. You know, we battled. We were in every minute of every game, but we were the second-place team.”