Sharks look to take next step next season
From separated shoulders for Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe, to broken pinkies, sprained ankles, wrenched knees and broken noses, the injury report for the San Jose Sharks is extensive after their quest for the Stanley Cup ended in the Western Conference final for the second straight year.
Those ailments are a sign that the Sharks have learned the price it takes to make it through the NHL playoffs. The task next year will be to use that knowledge to make it to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history and win it all.
''This year more than any other year since I've been here you can see the effects of a playoff battle on our team,'' said Clowe, who separated his shoulder in Game 5 of the second round. ''That's a good sign. Guys were laying it on the line. Last year, the Chicago series when it was over, I felt like we could have had a little more. This year I felt like guys laid it out there. Guys put their bodies on the line.''
The Sharks spent Thursday packing up their lockers and saying their good-byes instead of preparing for the Game 6 they had hoped to play. San Jose was eliminated in five games on Tuesday night on a fluky goal in double overtime that gave Vancouver a 3-2 win.
''There's pride and disappointment,'' general manager Doug Wilson said. ''Those are the emotions. Not playing tonight is going to take us a while to get over that.''
While there's been plenty of focus on the disputed call that allowed the Canucks to tie Game 5 late in regulation, the odd bounce that led to the game-winning goal and the seven-game series against Detroit that appeared to wear San Jose down, for Wilson the seeds of this loss might have been planted in a slow start to the regular season.
The lackluster opening left the Sharks in 12th place in the Western Conference in mid-January following a six-game losing streak and forced them to push so hard in the final months of the regular season just to make the playoffs.
''Did we drain our tank and leave ourselves susceptible to injuries because we didn't build that margin for error?'' Wilson asked. ''Everything starts draining upon your tank. Other teams got to rest their players and we were getting more mileage on the odometer.''
The most notable injury was Thornton's separated shoulder that knocked him out of Game 4. Thornton, who was already dealing with a broken left pinkie sustained late in the regular season, returned to play more than 32 minutes in the Game 5 loss.
He and Clowe were far from alone among the injured. Defenseman Dan Boyle played through an injured left knee that might require surgery since late in the regular season; Jason Demers, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski were either slowed or sidelined by ankle injuries; Heatley also broke his left hand late in the regular season; and Scott Nichol needed 20 stitches on his knee after being cut by a skate blade.
Then there are the normal bumps and bruises that every player has after eight months of hockey.
''We, like a lot of other teams, are banged up, sore, tired, maybe more so this year than last year after the final four,'' coach Todd McLellan said. ''I think that's a real positive sign for us. We were involved in battles maybe a little bit more.''
This marked the second straight year the Sharks were eliminated in the conference final after getting swept a year ago by eventual champion Chicago.
The Sharks are the only team to make it this far in each of the past two seasons, but that's little consolation for a franchise that has been near the top of the league the past decade but is still looking for its first trip to the final.
''It's tough - top four teams two years in a row,'' center Logan Couture said. ''It's an accomplishment for our organization but it's not where we want to be. At the same time, there's a lot of organizations that would gladly switch places with us. To be in the conference finals two straight years is a great accomplishment. But it's not where we want to be. We want to win a Stanley Cup.''
Wilson will spend the next few weeks reviewing the season and making plans for the offseason, during which changes are inevitable. But most of the core players are locked up under contract, including Thornton, Couture, Clowe, Pavelski, Boyle, Patrick Marleau and goalie Antti Niemi.
The team will likely look to bolster the blue line and could make other changes, but will likely bring many of the same players back for another run.
''I believe we're getting closer,'' McLellan said. ''We've got a core that's going to stay together, that's very strong. We'll change some pieces, we'll look at the way we play, some things that we do on the ice, like we always do, and come back and try to make them better. But we feel we're a top team in the league. We plan on staying there, and we plan on expanding it, as we always do.''