The San Jose Sharks exorcised the demons against the L.A. Kings in the first round.
They overcame a difficult Nashville Predators team in the second round and put aside the St. Louis Blues to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. After all those difficult times and playoff disappointments, the Sharks had finally gotten to that next level.
But their quest for a Stanley Cup ran into a fast and ultimately unstoppable Pittsburgh Penguins team that had been, since Mike Sullivan took over as head coach, gaining strength throughout the regular season and throughout the playoffs.
For the Penguins, their amazing run culminated with a Game 6 victory and a championship.
“It sucks. That’s the bottom line. It sucks. We thought we had the team, going through the teams we did in the West. It’s just tough right now,” Joe Thornton told reporters.
Despite falling two wins short of a championship, San Jose’s coach Pete DeBoer addressed the emotions going through his veteran players like Patrick Marleau and Thornton, who have been through the best times in San Jose, and the most difficult times, too.
“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,” said DeBoer to reporters.
“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.”
DeBoer didn’t reveal any specific injuries, but said there was a “laundry list” of guys dealing with things. He was asked about Joe Pavelski, who had only one goal in the series, but again the coach didn’t divulge anything.
The Penguins were, however, the best team in basically every game in this series. They dominated at times. Had it not been for the play of Martin Jones, this series could’ve been over in Game 5.
A deep team able to dish out Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on three different lines, Pittsburgh’s speed was too much for the Sharks to handle.
“Their speed, the pressure they put on with their speed. It’s not just their speed, they have good sticks, too,” said DeBoer.
“They force you into quicker decisions. They really challenge your execution. We hadn’t seen pressure and sticks like that through the first three rounds. I think our execution was an issue because of that.”
Added Thornton: “That’s why they’re hoisting this trophy up right now. That’s all I can say.”