The Sharks season came to a close Sunday night, falling to the Penguins 3-1 in Game 6 as they watched their foes lift the Stanley Cup.
As difficult as it was for the San Jose Sharks season to end with a loss in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the outcome came with mixed emotions for the teal clad and their fans.
While it’s difficult to admit, the Pittsburgh Penguins ended as very worthy Stanley Cup champions and finished as clearly the best team in hockey following their 3-1 win.
Unlike in Game 5, when the Sharks came out of the gates the much better and more desperate team scoring two goals in the first four minutes, the Penguins set the tone early in Game 6.
A Dainius Zubrus tripping penalty 7:50 into the period gave the Penguins their first man-advantage opportunity of the game and they quickly took care of business. Brian Dumoulin faked a shot and saw Melker Karlsson bite on it, giving Dumoulin room to get the puck past the defenders and eventually the goalie for his second goal of the playoffs.
It was one Sharks net minder Martin Jones would like to have back, but he would more than make up for the questionable goal later on.
The Sharks bounced back nicely after going down which is tough to do in a do-or-die game. They controlled puck possession the rest of the period and carried that into period two as well. However, without some truly unimaginable goaltending from Jones, team teal easily could have seen themselves down by three or four goals despite their pressure of Pens goalie Matt Murray.
That pressure and those scoring chances kept coming in the second period, and would eventually show on the scoreboard when Logan Couture flicked one past Murray to make it a 1-1 hockey game.
It was Couture’s 10th goal and league-leading 30th point of the playoffs. He finished as the fourth player in the past 20 seasons to score 30-plus points in one postseason. Brent Burns and Melker Karlsson notched their 17th and third assists of the playoffs on the goal.
While the arena was still celebrating the equalizer, Kris Letang once again put the Sharks down just over a minute later, sneaking a shot in between Jones and the near-side post. It came at the end of a dominant shift from one of the best defensemen in the game, who also benefitted from a great feed from Sidney Crosby. It was goal number three for Letang and the 12th and sixth assists from Crosby and Conor Sheary respectively.
Jones made a couple more fantastic stops on the way to the second intermission, and despite the Sharks controlling the puck for a good portion of the contest, the Penguins were the ones consistently getting the best chances.
The Sharks had to come out and play one of their best periods of the season in the final 20 to keep the dream alive, but unfortunately that did not happen. They finished the final period of the season with two – yes, two – shots on goal as Pittsburgh’s defensive depth showed, playing one of their best periods as a unit of the season when it mattered most.
It obviously wasn’t for a lack of trying, but the Sharks forwards were completely held at bay in the third period and had very few good chances to tie the game. Patric Hornqvist scored goal number nine into an empty-net with 1:02 left, essentially putting an end to the Sharks season.
Crosby, the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoffs MVP, added his 13th assist of the postseason campaign on the final goal as well. The points may not have been there – he finished with zero goals and four assists in the series – but there’s no question his dominance on the forecheck, overall physicality and playmaking abilities led the Penguins throughout the playoffs.
Others in contention for the trophy may have been Phil Kessel, who had himself a fantastic playoffs and was a great story throughout the year, Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Murray, who was as good as a just-turned-22 year-old goalie can be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
To be honest, Martin Jones was the only reason the Sharks were in this game for the full 60 minutes. The case could be made that Jones was the best player in every game of the series aside from Game 4.
Despite not winning the Stanley Cup, Jones was the better goalie in the series and possibly the best in the entire playoffs. The 26 year-old has etched his name among the league’s best net minders, even if he’s only now been a starter for one season, and looks to have a bright future in teal.
Here’s one of those late in the final period that kept the Sharks hopes alive for an extra few minutes:
It hurts to lose when you’ve come this far. However, this is the farthest this franchise has ever been, and the team and front office has to be commended for the hard work and success this season. To finish as the Stanley Cup runner-up may not sound appealing, but is a huge accomplishment. It’s stunning to look back and see the teams the Sharks beat to get here – Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis – and think about how good those three squads were.
It wasn’t the result team teal and its faithful hoped for, yet it was an awe-inspiring and historic season nonetheless, and one that will be remembered by Sharks players and fans for a long time.