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Win or Lose, 2015-16 a Success
Much to be proud of this season
6/8/16 - By Mike Lee -

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 Championship.

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.

The 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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