Martin Jones

Sharks disappointed to fall short of Stanley Cup after wild playoff ride

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AP

Sharks disappointed to fall short of Stanley Cup after wild playoff ride

To say the Sharks' 2019 playoff run had its ups and downs is a bit of an understatement. Heck, they went through rollercoasters of emotions in single games. But after all the work to rally back against adversity, they still couldn't punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

That's what Sharks coach Peter DeBoer pinpointed as the thing that upset him the most. Not that the season was over and that changes to the team are on the horizon, but that the struggles his team went through to get where they were in the playoffs didn't get a different result.

"My disappointment isn't thinking about next year," DeBoer said when he addressed the media following San Jose's 5-1 loss to the Blues in Game 6. "Mine is in the group we have this year and the adversity we faced and the people we had and the work put in. And the number of times they were written for dead and buried and the number of times they kept getting off the mat and the things guys played through."

He isn't wrong. The Sharks had their backs against the wall multiple times in their 20-game postseason run and found ways to come out on the other side. They were on the brink of being eliminated after just four games in the first round before Martin Jones reinvented himself and became locked in for the rest of that series against the Golden Knights. San Jose's struggling power play was about to get them eliminated before it exploded for four goals in just over four minutes in Game 7 to propel the Sharks into the next round. They were getting outskated by a speedy Colorado Avalanche team before an amazing return to action from their injured captain helped push Team Teal into the Western Conference final. 

In every situation, the Sharks were expected to flounder, yet they found a way to work out of it. The fact that effort won't receive a reward is what disheartens DeBoer the most.

"That's the disappointing part for me," DeBoer continued. "The stuff that you don't see should get rewarded and it should be. But, it's a harsh league and it's a hard trophy to win."

San Jose faced its toughest battle yet in Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues with Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson all out of the lineup with injuries. While San Jose's depth proved to be its bread and butter when the team is healthy, missing three top players -- and who knows how many others playing were also battling injuries -- was enough to hamper how the Sharks competed against St. Louis.

Logan Couture -- who puts a lot of responsibility on his shoulders when it comes to his team's success -- insisted the loss of big players shouldn't hinder the team's ability to win games. "You can't win in the NHL with one player," he said. "There are so many elite players in the league. It hurts when (one of) your top guys goes down, but other guys have to step up and fill that void. I thought we did a decent job, just not good enough."

[RELATED: Sharks' borrowed time runs out with Game 6 loss to Blues]

With their season now moving into the review mirror, San Jose is set up to have an interesting offseason with several players entering free agency -- including Pavelski and Karlsson -- plus the uncertainty of whether Joe Thornton, who turns 40 in July, has played his last NHL season. Couture admitted this part of the job is a sad one and that the uncertainty of the future isn't fun, but that the team isn't thinking quite that far ahead just yet.

"You play with guys for eight months, every day," Couture explained. "You get a schedule, you come to the rink, you see the guys, go on the road. And then it comes to an abrupt end. You don't know what to do with yourself, and then changes are made. Some of the guys you may not see until you play them the next season. It's the worst part about playing in this league -- there are many positives, that's probably the biggest negative. We expect there's going to be change next year, (but) I think right now it's a little too early to think about it."

Sharks could be headed for another Game 7 after Game 4 loss vs. Blues

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USATSI

Sharks could be headed for another Game 7 after Game 4 loss vs. Blues

If the narrative after Game 3 was that San Jose got all the bounces and all the officiating breaks, then the hockey gods did a fast 180 during Game 4 in St. Louis.

The Blues beat the Sharks 2-1, while never putting a single puck past Martin Jones themselves.

Here are some observations with the Western Conference final heading back to San Jose tied at two.

Close but not that close

The breakdown of San Jose’s shots was telling on Friday night: 30 pucks on goal, 21 attempts blocked, and 22 which missed the net. That’s a high volume of opportunities that never even put Blues goalie Jordan Binnington to work. Brent Burns also hit two posts. That’s how close this outcome was to the Sharks holding a 3-1 series lead.

Not a perfect theory

The legend of “undefeated when allowing two or fewer” comes to an end for San Jose.

In a streak dating back to March 2018, the Sharks were unblemished when holding their opponent to two goals or fewer. This season, their record in that circumstance is 39-1.

We never promised it was a guarantee, only a great recipe for success — which should still be counted upon.

Don't blame the refs

The officiating was questionable at best Friday night.

I have reservations about Brendan Dillon’s holding the stick penalty in the first, Timo Meier’s hooking in the first, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s corresponding slash in the second.

In the same breath, I also want to disconnect these calls from potential referee retribution against the Sharks, and I want to dispel the notion that officiating alone cost them the game.

What's up with EK65?

A big question mark moving forward will be the health of Erik Karlsson. He has found ways to either skate smarter, or recover faster from injury during these playoffs - but he was also noticeably absent for about six important minutes of the final period. The defenseman did return to the game once Martin Jones was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. If there is a silver lining to our concerns — it wasn’t seen as a risk to Karlsson or the game for him to participate at that critical juncture. But until answers arrive in Game 5, questions will persist.

[RELATED: DeBoer disagrees that Sharks have been 'lucky' in playoffs]

Are we going seven?

Even if our series goes a full seven games, it’s worth this observation since we’ve already passed the halfway point: The Sharks have every opportunity to advance. This is not a guarantee they will or a suggestion that the Blues are not up to the task of knocking them off. It’s just that we’ve seen matchups over the years where the result seemed destined to go against San Jose by this point. They’ve been outmatched and overpowered before, but you’d be hard pressed to say that’s the case here. The Sharks and Blues have alternated wins, and it might take a third consecutive Game 7 for San Jose to advance. But wouldn’t you accept that path if it meant playing for the Stanley Cup again?

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 2-1 Game 4 loss against Blues

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 2-1 Game 4 loss against Blues

BOX SCORE

After a widely discussed Game 3 victory, the Sharks had the opportunity to make a statement and take a commanding three-games-to-one Western Conference Final lead over the Blues on Friday night. But after finding themselves in an early two-goal hole, San Jose couldn't find the magic a second game in a row, and dropped Game 4 to St. Louis 2-1.

Here are three takeaways from Game 4 in St. Louis.

Not as lucky as some might think

You really can't blame those two first-period goals on Martin Jones, since they both deflected off of his teammates and he was clearly the reason the Blues weren't up by three or four goals by the end of the first frame. Then, when San Jose turned up the heat in the second period, their offense couldn't cash in -- Timo Meier's backhanded attempt was denied with help from Carl Gunnarsson, and Brent Burns rung the puck off of the post.

San Jose deserves credit for responding in the second stanza and putting pressure on St. Louis, hemming the Blues in their own zone and forcing the play. Unfortunately, the lack of goal support kept them from completely swinging the momentum back into their favor.

Power play converts -- but still needs some work 

Long story short: Before the third period of Game 4, the Sharks hadn't scored a 5-on-4 power-play goal since the second round. That's not good.

Nearly every game, the Sharks are leaving scoring opportunities on the table because they can't find the back of the net on the man advantage. To make matters worse, the Blues tallied a power-play goal for a second straight game -- not a good sign considering St. Louis'
power play has been struggling just as much as San Jose's. After finally converting midway through the third frame, the Sharks got yet another opportunity on the man advantage, but couldn't generate any good chances.

One of the things that worked for the Sharks on their third-period power-play goal was that they were finally getting in front of the net instead of staying up high and passing the puck back and forth. If the Sharks can get a little bit of confidence from Friday's power-play goal, they will be in better shape.

No love in Game 4s 

It's true. The Sharks were almost shut out in their third straight Game 4 through these playoffs, ending Friday evening being outscored 10-1 through three Game 4s.

Now, this doesn't guarantee the win-loss trend will continue or that the Sharks will respond with a dominant Game 5 when the series returns to San Jose on Sunday afternoon. However, Team Teal has certainly shown it has the ability to respond nicely after a not-so-stellar game.

The Sharks have played their best hockey this postseason when they're bouncing back after a loss. Game 5 will be a good time for them to bounce back and make a statement.