Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Crazy Game

For San Jose Sharks fans, it's a familiar feeling. A very good team that didn't quite measure up when it counted.

For the second straight year, the Sharks saw their season end in the conference finals. The team that beat them last year went on to win the Stanley Cup. I'd say there's a pretty good chance the team that beat them this year will do so too.

When you lose a series 4-1, as the Sharks did to the Vancouver Canucks, it's tempting to say that anyone who says it could have gone the other way is a whiny loser. But this series was a lot closer than 4-1. The series-ending game was largely dominated by the Sharks, who just didn't get the bounces and breaks--and no bounce was any weirder than the one that led to the winning goal.

People who've watched more hockey than I have say they can't recall a crazier series-ending goal: a puck that it seems was only seen by one player, Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa, after a zany bounce off a stanchion in the rinkside glass. Bieksa's shot was one of the ugliest you'll ever see, but a thing of pure beauty to the roaring crowd in Vancouver.

Now begins the annual flogging of the Sharks, a team upon which high expectations are heaped year after year. There will be those who blame Patrick Marleau or Dany Heatley. Both are high-paid forwards who are expected to score. Marleau suffered the pathetic rantings of former teammate Jeremy Roenick earlier in the playoffs, and answered by scoring 7 points in the Vancouver series. Heatley's effort in Game 5 can't be questioned, even if he never broke through on the scoresheet.

Sports can be cruel in its finality. The fact that the Sharks didn't win doesn't make them losers, and a calm assessment of the team's strengths should reveal that the best thing to do is probably to stand pat. The core of the team is set. Young forward Jamie McGinn, notably, becomes a restricted free agent and I can't imagine the team failing to re-sign him after the postseason energy he displayed.

Dump on the Sharks for failing to win it all, if you must, but do remember that this team has taken the Bay Area deep into spring hockey pretty regularly. If Vancouver ends up winning the Cup, it'll be a bittersweet balm, but at least the Sharks will know that they were right there with the eventual champions.

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