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The Sharks may not have gone as far as they would have liked this season, but they did discover something about themselves that can only help in their future efforts to win the Stanley Cup.
The power of playing for the guy at the locker next to yours can take a team a long way.
San Jose’s season came to an end Tuesday night with a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Sharks actually played some of their best hockey of the postseason in Game 7, including an inspired third period in which they peppered Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick with pressure but simply couldn’t break through with the tying goal.
Hockey can be humbling, especially when you outplay an opponent but the other team’s goaltender renders that meaningless. That was the case for most of Game 7.
But even though it was a loss, the Sharks at least know they played at an extremely high level at times. And much of that performance is produced by an unfiltered sense of team, a chemistry and cohesiveness that manifests itself in elite play on the ice.
“We’re in transition a little bit as an organization with some of the moves we made,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “But I thought the way they banded together and the way they played for each other and with each other was exceptional. It was a really positive sign for our organization, not only in the playoffs but moving forward. It’s not about one or two guys. It’s about the group as a whole, and they accepted that. I think we have something to build on moving forward.”
The Sharks appeared to be at peace with the moment from the outset Tuesday. They were playing in a Game 7 in a building where the hosts hadn’t lost in 13 straight games. But San Jose played loose and skated fast.
The Sharks weren’t uptight even in the most pressure-induced situation. San Jose kept its locker room free and jovial throughout, oftentimes staging pregame soccer challenges to get ready for the puck to drop.
“We had a lot of fun, especially toward the end,” Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. “Guys enjoyed it. There were a lot of good times from the season. It’s just so difficult when it ends like this, especially when you have the chance at the end.”
It was hard to see past the disappointment and see that fun Tuesday. The Sharks were frustrated that their superior effort – they outplayed the Kings for most of the night – not only went by the wayside, but that their season had come to an abrupt close. They won’t be able to play with each other until the fall now, and those pregame soccer showdowns are now on hold for a while.
“We were having so much fun, it’s just disappointing that it has to end,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said. “We were really enjoying this. It’s just a tough way to finish.”
The end of the season always provides a sting, but you get the sense it may hurt just a bit more this time for this close group of Sharks. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was asked how long it will take for the team to get over the season-ending loss.
“When does the season start again?” he said.