Hold Your Heads Up, San Jose. You Really Were Good.

Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks 2006
Black and white makes everything much more tragic, doesn’t it? (Photo “courtesy” of Wikimedia Commons)

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by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

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Joe Pavelski had a Hell of a playoffs. So did Logan Couture. So did Joe Thornton, and so was Patrick Marleau. Danny Boyle looked 10 years younger, and Antti Niemi looked three years younger (which is a compliment, because Niemi won a Cup just three years ago).

The Sharks were the best team in this series more often than Los Angeles was. I know that sounds like an opinion, but I’d be happy to debate it and I completely believe it without doubt.

Forget the fact that San Jose went down four games-to-three to the defending Stanley Cup champions. San Jose now becomes the sixth straight team to leave a playoff series against Los Angeles wondering, “How did we lose like that?”

Joe Pavelski agrees…

“Never felt overwhelmed against this team,” he said after the 2-1 loss, apparently trying to suck away any thought the Sharks should have been considered the underdog in California. “We know we could beat ’em right away, and it’s disappointing.”

“We had very good looks,” said San Jose head coach Todd McLellan, whose team has now gone nine years with a playoff position and no Cup. “And trust me, it wasn’t that they weren’t trying to bear down, it just didn’t go… the competitiveness and effort of our team and organization down the stretch is something I’m very proud of, and we should be proud.”

Amen, brothers.

Logan Couture called the loss “heartbreaking” in between repeated phrases that seemed to include or revolve around, “It’s tough.”

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The question now, as it has been since the 2004 lockout, is, “Where do the Sharks go from here?”

It’s become customary to saw their championship window is closing, although anyone who seriously watch this Sharks team in 2013 knows this was perhaps the best postseason effort they’ve ever put forward, even if they did reach the Western Conference Finals in 2010 and 2011.

Maybe it’s time we throw out all predictions of a championship window or how tightly it can lock. It’s a window, after all. You can see through and you can shatter it with a crowbar if you really want.

Maybe it’s time we analyze the Sharks for what they are, not how us mere mortals predict they’ll evolve. After all, most people would have written off Teemu Selanne before 2007 or Wilie Mitchell before 2012. And, if you’re a historian, same goes for Lanny McDonald or the 1983 New York Islanders.

Joe Thornton has always been the smallest big man in the NHL, but he was a force these playoffs. He finally played – and passed – like he was interested in scoring goals or – even rarer for him – preventing them. McLellen has hopefully knocked that nasty rumour of his dismissal off his back.

And then there’s Niemi, the team’s MVP and a Vezina Trophy candidate for the first time in his career – maybe the only guy in recent memory who’s been able to so seamlessly move from one embattled hockey city to another, both teams desperate for results when he arrived and both teams realizing he was often the reason they either won or were even in the conversation.

The Sharks are a very good hockey team, and they’ve gotten better with every loss. They weren’t ready in 2006, when Thornton exploded forth from the lockout with a new team and his only Hart Trophy. They weren’t ready in 2009, when they were swept in the opening round by the 8th-seeded Anaheim Ducks – a team coming off a worse regular season but one with more pedigree in its pinky than that Sharks squad.

They were ready this year. They may have been ready in 2011, or 2010. And, as a Vancouver kid whose own team’s sudden future is as murky and volcanic as Sudden Valley’s, I can sympathize.

“And so it ends, again,” wrote CSN Bay Area’s Ray Ratto, his words as gloomy as a British Columbia May long weekend. “The San Jose Sharks have exhausted themselves only to end up doing the sad-face handshakes, and face another summer of wondering if it will ever end a different way.

“The successive Western Conference finals appearances are now two years’ distant, and there is the temporary sense that their window has closed a bit more.

“But that depends on how you define the window. This San Jose team played with less of the studied cool of previous teams and with more of a desperate edge, and the Ryane Clowe and Raffi Torres deals on Deadline Day provided a hint that Doug Wilson is seeing it that way as well.”

Again, I say, Amen.