Joe Thornton (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
While the team didn't win the Stanley Cup, they produced the best result ever for a franchise that knows disappointment. And while the Western gauntlet means there is no guarantee the Sharks will get back to the final anytime soon, they wouldn't be the first great team without a title.
Today probably rots if you're in San Jose.
The Sharks will wake up with no more hockey to play, no more chances to win the Stanley Cup in 2015-16. And that feeling will linger for awhile, perhaps for the entire summer. Which is too bad, because the Sharks should feel proud of what they accomplished this season.
I get it, we live in a winner-take-all society and these are millionaire athletes we're talking about, but I feel the Sharks deserve some positive reflection right now. They beat their personal devils, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round, and did so in five games. They took out a tough Nashville team in seven games, where the "choker" tag easily could have come back, and then they dispatched a St. Louis squad just as desperate to make the final.
What, admittedly, is the toughest part for San Jose is that this may have been their best chance to win it all. Sure, some of their top players are in their prime right now (Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns), while others are entering that stage (Martin Jones, Tomas Hertl), but how many more years do veterans such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward have in the tank? When does the drop-off begin?
That's a big X-factor for the future. And I'm not saying the Sharks are going to fall off the face of the Earth next year, but if they get dusted in the first or second round, would it be a surprise? Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis are all licking their wounds in the West, let's not forget.
Let's remember: it's really hard to win the Cup. St. Louis has never done it, Vancouver has never done it, Buffalo has never done it – and those squads have been around for decades. Some iterations of those franchises have been really good, too – we're talking Cup final appearances. But another very good team was there and that's history for you.
And that's why I feel for a guy like Thornton. This may have been the top of the mountain for him (at the NHL level – he does have Olympic gold) and even though the offense wasn't there for him in the final, I thought he did a lot of other good things. After Game 6, his coach was asked for his feelings on Thornton and fellow vet Marleau.
"Well, just raw," said Pete DeBoer. "The end is like hitting a wall. You've been going since September, 106 games. How many hundreds of thousands of miles in the air. A special group.
"But only one team can win. That doesn't take anything away from what those guys accomplished. I don't think anyone should ever question the leadership or the character or the will of the group of men in there. I think it's been misplaced for a decade. I would hope they answered some questions. Let's be honest. Not many people have us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating L.A. On and on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group."
One final thought: Ray Bourque and Cam Neely never won a Cup in Boston. Bourque had to be traded to Colorado to realize his dream, while Neely had to wait until his front office days with the Bruins. Now, the Bourque-Neely era Bruins lost the Cup final to Edmonton twice in three years. In 1990, they won the Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the league. But the Oilers were better in that final series. Was that time in Boston a failure? Or was it a really good epoch that just didn't happen to end in a banner?