| Win or Lose, 2015-16 a
Much to be proud of this season
Regardless of what happens on Thursday night in
Pittsburgh, this season can only be regarded as a success. Should the Sharks
lose Game 5 in Pittsburgh, and ultimately the series, they can still hang their
heads high. The 2015-16 season was supposed to be a big question mark, filled
with the unknown uneasiness for a team that was an absolute mess a season
earlier. To make the Stanley Cup Finals, much less make the playoffs, was a
massive step forward for a team that many had written off for dead.
The odds are stacked against the Sharks to pull out of their 3-1 hole, and the
fact they've led for only a single second in this series does not indicate that
a turnaround is on the horizon. But that doesn't negate the fact that the
Sharks exceeded everyone's expectations by winning the Western Conference
Who would have expected Joe Thornton to play the way he
did all season after his clash with General Manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks
year of failure which started with their implosion in the 2014 playoffs against
the Los Angeles Kings.
Todd McLellan added to the mayhem when he and
Wilson agreed to part ways, leaving the Sharks scrambling to find a new bench
boss. Peter DeBoer's hiring left even more questions. DeBoer was a relative
unknown on the West Coast. He led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup
Finals in 2012, but outside of that, he was a mystery to most.
start of the regular season didn't suggest that much would change, but San Jose
proved that once you make the playoffs anything can happen. The Sharks were
only a 6th seed in a Western Conference field that was stacked. Yet, they blew
past the Kings, went toe-to-toe with the Nashville Predators, then floored the
St Louis Blues.
The energy that sparked them in those preliminary
series dissipated in the four Finals games, and as the frustration mounts,
there will be plenty of regrets. Every player to a man will ponder the "what if
I had done x differently."
Thornton will no doubt suffer the most. The
future Hall-of-Famer has deflected questions about playoff failures all his
career. Take note of the fact that hockey is a team sport, and Thornton just
hasn't had the teammates that could carry him to hockey's promise land. Blame
that largely on Wilson, who like the lineups he's repeatedly thrown on the ice,
has never had any success in the playoffs as a player or team executive.
Thornton had one of the best all around seasons of his
career, but he'll continue to be labeled an underachiever should the Sharks
fall to Pittsburgh in any of the next three games. San Jose could stretch this
series to a Game 7 and Thornton would still take heat.
It's an unfair
statement on a guy that has evolved his game from premier setup man by adding a
defensive presence that was a vital component to the Sharks success this
spring. Yet, he will ultimately be the guy that couldn't get it done.
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski will be another fall guy for San Jose. The
spotlight was clearly focused on him this season, and for all but 4 games, he's
been the straw that stirred the Sharks drink this season. He led the team in
goals, and was a one-man wrecking crew through the first three rounds of the
playoffs. It was a performance that fizzled in the Finals, but you can't fault
a guy for running out of gas after carrying the team on his back since October.
If someone told you a year ago that the Sharks were going to be
playing in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, you would have called them crazy. Any
fan would have jumped at the chance to see their team play in the Finals.
Now that we've all had a taste of what the Finals are all about, the
expectations will be higher. Some of the players that made this experience a
reality won't even be around next season. The big question heading into next
season is if this year wet the players appetite. Will they be content with what
they accomplished this season, or will they take that extra step to get back
and maybe even win one a year from now.
So fret not Sharks fans. This
season was a success. It may not feel like if the Sharks are eliminated, but
the fact is, it was.
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