That’s the question that San Jose Sharks players, coaches, front office staff and fans are asking themselves.
The 2006-07 Sharks set franchise records for regular season wins (51), road wins (26) and points (107). Their power play was the second best in the National Hockey League. Many of the media “experts” picked the Sharks to be playing for – and winning -- the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the Sharks season came to an abrupt and disappointing end on Monday night when the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Sharks in the sixth game of their Western Conference Semifinal series with a 2-0 win.
Perhaps one reason is what happened in Game Four. That’s when San Jose took a 2-0 lead early in the second period. But Detroit scored last minute goals in the second and third periods to tie and wound up winning in overtime. The Sharks had a 2-1 lead in the series going into that game. After that, San Jose lost 4-1 in Game Five at Joe Louis Arena and was shutout Monday night.
“We worked really hard to get a 2-1 lead in the series,” Coach Ron Wilson said. “In Game Four, we had a 2-0 lead and the way we lost it towards the end, that’s when the series went out the window.”
Another reason could be the power play. Entering Monday’s game, San Jose’s success with the man advantage ranked 13th amongst the 16 teams in the postseason tournament – just a 7.5 percent success rate.
“We didn’t get enough shots, or any shots, from the point,” Wilson said. “It’s very important to establish that early in the series. We didn’t get shots through or were dynamic enough on the back end to make things happen. We just didn’t want to shoot the puck or were afraid the shot was going to get blocked. That’s something we have to get better at.”
Also, the Sharks faced two of the toughest penalty killing units in the National Hockey League. Nashville, San Jose’s quarterfinal opponent, ranked third while Detroit was seventh.
“We had our chances and a lot of power plays,” Mike Grier said. “They (Detroit) did the job on the penalty kill all series. They never let us get any momentum off the power play.”
“The (Kris) Drapers and (Kirk) Maltbys were hungry,” Ryane Clowe
said. “(Nicklas) Lidstrom has such a great stick. You just can’t force stuff against those guys. The power play maybe wasn’t at its best, but it’s not going to win you a Cup.”
Reason three: solid goaltending from 42-year-old Dominik Hasek. He never allowed more than two goals in each of the six games and capped off the series by stopping all 28 San Jose shots on Monday.
“We couldn’t get anything past Dom. He played great tonight,” Joe Thornton
said. “We had some good chances. He’s going to steal a game and he stole this one. It’s just too bad it ended this way.”
“Dom made the saves when he had to,” Grier added.
The fourth reason: giving an experienced team like the Red Wings a chance. Two defensive breakdowns led to both Detroit goals.
“They’re a good team,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic
said. “If you give them opportunities to put the puck in the net, they’ll do that.”
“They’re a smart team,” Clowe said. “They’re winners. They’ve been there. They have the will to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re faster than a guy or stronger. It’s a matter of who wants it more. They know what it takes. We may have more depth, but when they have everyone going, that’s key. You can’t have six guys going (playing well) one night and six guys the next. It’s got to be a full lineup every night.”
“We beat ourselves,” Kyle McLaren said. “We shot ourselves in the foot by giving up two-goal leads and not being able to close the deal. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have to correct that over the summer and get back in the same position to do it again just a little better.”
There could be lots of reasons why, but the bottom line is the season ended on Monday night. And that’s not going to sit well with anyone associated with the Sharks.
“This one’s going to hurt more than the last couple of years,” McLaren said. “The way we were built this year, we had high expectations for ourselves and rightfully so. This one’s going to certainly hurt most of the summer and even into next season.”
“You work hard all season to get this far and lose is disappointing,” Vlasic said. “You never want to have any regrets and we’re going to have some here.”
“We all know what had to be done and what we had to do, but we just didn’t get it done,” Grier said.
LINE JUGGLING HELPS
With their backs against the wall in Monday night’s season-ending match-up against the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings, Wilson once again altered his forward lines in hopes of jump starting the team’s offense and extending the season at least one more game.
Unfortunately, the Sharks couldn’t find that winning chemistry - the chemistry that gave the Sharks one of the most feared offensive units in the NHL during the regular season - in Game 6 tonight as they failed to score against scorching hot goaltender Dominik Hasek and the Red Wings by a score of 2-0.
To create more scoring opportunities and in an attempt to sustain more offensive pressure against a suffocating Red Wings defense, Wilson tinkered with the forward lines by starting Captain Patrick Marleau
on a line with wings Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek. The second line was centered by Joe Thornton
who was teamed with Ryane Clowe
and Jonathan Cheechoo. The third line consisted of Patrick Rissmiller, Marcel Goc and Mike Grier, while the fourth line featured Mark Bell, Mark Smith and Curtis Brown.
Throughout the game it looked as though the enhanced lines would pay dividends for the Sharks as the team seemed to control the tempo of the game. The Sharks dominated at both ends of the ice with quality scoring chances coming fast and furiously against a Red Wings defense that appeared to be a step behind the Sharks forwards throughout.
As the game moved on, the Sharks continued their impressive display of offensive firepower as the Sharks tallied a total of 28 shots in the game to Detroit’s 22 shots. It’s the first time in the series that the Sharks have out shot the Red Wings and the first time in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Red Wings have been out shot by their opponents.
Unfortunately, shooting more often didn’t kick start the scoring as the Sharks were unable to get any shots past Hasek who saved his best performance for the series finale. And when Hasek looked beatable, his defenseman came through on more than one occasion.
Perhaps the best scoring opportunity for the Sharks, a turnover to Mike Grier who attempted to wrap the puck around and into a wide-open net while Hasek was working his way back toward the crease, was stymied by two-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom as he made a spectacular diving save, knocking the puck away from the net and away from other Sharks players in the area. The Sharks never saw another opportunity like that for the remainder of the game.
Although the significance of altering lines and mixing and matching players on the ice to try to create offense seemed to generate more inspired play for the Sharks, the consensus in the locker room is that regardless of who is out on the ice, the team should be performing at a high level of play.
"We play with so many different lines during the regular season that it doesn't matter who we play with," said Thornton.
“I don’t think it makes any difference,” added Cheechoo. “Everybody wants to win. He (Coach Wilson) just puts whoever’s going at the time out there. That’s something they do with goalies. They put the hot guy in and let him go and that’s what we have to do with our lines.”
Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the tinkering of the lines didn’t produce the desired results for the team as the Sharks came up short in the most important stat of the game…the score.