For the San Jose Sharks, the summer is starting way too soon. After a stellar regular season, a smooth first round knockout with Nashville, and a seemingly great start to the first three games of their second series, the Sharks have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing Game 6 to Detroit 2-0.
The final contest started out great for the Sharks. They were fired up, confident, and making big hits to rile up their home crowd. Steve Bernier and Ryan Clowe each laid out Red Wing players in their first shifts to set a physical tone, and when Milan Michalek got in a scuff behind the goal, Patrick Marleau
jumped right in to send a clear message that the Sharks wouldn’t go down without a fight.
But even with all their grit and determination, nothing seemed to go right for the Sharks. After the San Jose dominated the first 15 minutes of the game, it was the Red Wings that drew first blood on a breakaway by former Shark Mikael Samuelsson. The Sharks had the chance to tie shorthanded when Mike Grier intercepted a clearing attempt by Dominik Hasek while he was behind the cage. Grier’s open net wrap around attempt was blocked the extended stick of Niklas Lidstrom, shocking the sell out crowd at HP Pavilion that was already celebrating on their feet.
“Looking back maybe I should have taken another step in and tried to lift it up,” said Grier. “I was pretty much even with him going in on Dom (Hasek) and I was able to pick the pass off. I knew I had to try to get around the net as quickly as possible with Lidstrom coming on the other side, and I think he got it right on the goal line.”
Then with eight seconds left in the first, Samuelsson converted for his second goal of the game, completely shifting the momentum in Detroit’s favor. Things started to feel hauntingly similar to Game 4 when the Sharks allowed the Red Wings to score with five seconds left in the second period, and then again with 34 seconds in the third to force overtime. After outshooting the Wings 11-10 in the first period, the Sharks entered the locker room down 2-0.
“It was a shot in the foot, but it certainly didn’t deflate our sails,” said McLaren about Samuelsson’s late first period goal. “You just try to put it behind you. We knew they had come back on us 2-0, so we kind of had that mind set of just keep going and playing our game and keep pushing the pace."
The Sharks had their chances in the second period. Ryan Clowe and Joe Thornton
nearly connected for the first Sharks tally of the game, but Thornton was raked into the goal by two Red Wing defenders as he tried to corral a centering pass from Clowe. Steve Bernier had a breakaway opportunity with 8:26 left in the second, but again Hasek shut down the drive.
“Hasek stood on his head a few times when he had to and we just didn’t put it behind him,” added McLaren.
The Detroit netminder was perfect in goal on the night, shutting out San Jose on 28 shots.
Things just never seemed to fall in place for the Sharks. Although they outshot Detroit for the first time this series, 28-22, the bounces just didn’t go their way.
“They got that timely goal whenever they needed it to get the momentum and really carry it when they had to,” explained Joe Thornton
. “It’s hockey. It’s a weird sport and weird things happen. Unfortunately, we’re on the wrong end of the stick right now.”
Now that the season is over, the Sharks will have a lot of time to reflect on this series and what could have been. And that reflection will not be easy. For a team that many thought could make it all the way, a second round elimination is a tough pill to swallow.
“This one’s going to hurt more than the last couple years,” said McLaren. “The way we were made, and built this year, we had high expectations for ourselves. This one’s going to certainly hurt most of the summer and even into next year. I think that’s the most disappointing thing.”
San Jose improved in so many ways from the 2005-06 season, setting club records for points and road wins, but in the end, they fell in a difficult second round series where they appeared to be in control.
“It’s tough being the same way,” said Cheechoo. “We were pretty close.”
“Everybody is in shock right now,” said Patrick Marleau
. “We’ll talk about the games they won when we were in control. Coming into tonight, they only led 22 minutes.”
Close meant leading in three of there four losses, including twice being up 2-0. The way they lost will sit with the Sharks for quite a while.
“I’m sick to my stomach the way it unfolded, especially the last couple games,” said McLaren. “We had a lot of fight tonight, just not enough.”
It’s not as if the Sharks didn’t have the effort, but the results are what counted. San Jose thought they had the makeup of a champion.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Nabokov. “This was a pretty complete team. Doug Wilson did a great job and it seemed like everything was going well.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Wilson. “At my age, you want to win a Cup. You want to win now. You put in all this work and boom, it’s gone. You have to go back to GO again. That’s the feeling right now.”
The Sharks best scoring opportunity on the night came when Mike Grier perfectly read Dominik Hasek and took the puck behind the net and looked set for a wraparound on the empty net.
“I thought he might try to go back there and I guessed,” said Grier. “It would have been nice to put it in.”
The puck never crossed the line though.
“I knew I had to get there quick,” said Grier. “I could look back and maybe take another step. It was a big momentum play of the game.”
What looked like a sure goal was deflected by a diving Niklas Lidstrom.
“It was a great play and Niklas Lidstrom made a greater play to get his stick down,” said Wilson.
Once again, the Red Wings were the club who capitalized on their opponents mistakes.
“We made mistakes and they capitalized,” said Grier.
“We made two mistakes in the first and they scored two goals,” said Wilson.
Because clear Sharks mistakes were the cause of multiple losses, the Sharks had a tough time accepting they wouldn’t have come out on top if they matched up with Detroit again.
“Honestly, we know we beat ourselves,” said McLaren. “We shot ourselves in the foot. We lost two goal leads and have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Still the Red Wings did earn respect from the Sharks.
“They’re a veteran lineup and when we were up, they did not give up,” said Rivet. “They didn’t play spectacular, but they played consistent hockey.”
“Their experienced guys played with a lot of poise,” said Nabokov. “I thought Game 4 was the turning point. I’m not saying we would have won the series, but there would have been a Game 7.”
PP LET DOWN
The Sharks power play couldn’t find the target often against Detroit and that was a frustration looking back on a lost series.
“Especially when you’re one of the top power plays all year,” said McLaren. “We played good five-on-five and the penalty killing was great.”
“They had an extremely aggressive penalty kill and we couldn’t get the proper amount of pucks to the net,” said Rivet.”
The lack of point shots definitely hurt in a series where ugly goals would be critical.
“We didn’t get shots through,” said Wilson. “We didn’t attempt to shoot the (darn) puck. You get the attitude from the forwards that if they’re not going to shoot, you’re not going to pass it back there. Then you’re playing three on four or three on five.”
LATE GOALS AGAIN
The Sharks surrendered late goals that crushed them in Game 4 and the back breaker occurred again when goal two came with eight seconds left in the first.
“It seemed like the late goals were killing us,” said Nabokov.
NOT THEIR BEST EFFORT
Offensively, the Sharks came up short and never produced more than two goals in a game.
“Unfortunately, a couple of guys didn’t play well and I have to find out how I can help make them better,” said Wilson. “We had some inexcusable mistakes from some key people. We’ll learn from this and make ourselves better.”
RED WINGS, HEAD COACH, MIKE BABCOCK:
On the playoffs so far:
“I think the big thing all year long has been the fact that, you know when you don’t get picked to be very good, and then you’re pretty good through the regular season, and then someone says you’re not a playoff team. We played two big, strong teams and have done well, and now we’re going to get another one.”
“It was exciting to watch Dom play, I thought he was fantastic.”
On the game:
“I thought we competed hard. They threw everything at us, and we knew that was going to happen. We thought if we were patient, they would over-pinch, and be over-aggressive and we would get 2-on-1’s and get our opportunities and, in the end, that’s what happened.”