As the Pittsburgh Penguins took turns hoisting their fourth Stanley Cup on SAP Center ice, the Sharks’ stars shuffled into their own locker room for interviews.
The procession was more alike a sudden funeral than a return from an unfinished crusade. Teal-clad wives wept in the hallway outside, and the Sharks’ stars tried one-by-one to piece together their thoughts on an abrupt ending to a historically peerless season.
Forward Logan Couture said:
“You think of getting to this opportunity when you’re a kid. You never plan on losing when you get here. You dream of winning. It definitely hurts.”
Couture led all players in the postseason with 30 points, the most ever by a San Jose skater. His game-tying score in the second period of Sunday’s game buoyed the Sharks’ chances in a way that Martin Jones’ acrobatics alone could not.
When a reporter began to recite the traditional “no one expected you to get this far” prompt reserved for fallen underdogs, Couture cut her off:
Across the room, Martin Jones gave the wall of electronics in his face a run for its money in terms of emotional display. Fresh off a 191-save series that his coach Peter DeBoer would later dub “one of the all-time best goaltending performances in a Final probably ever, or right up there anyway,” Jones retained his perpetual level-headedness.
No frustration at being pelted 205 times to Matt Murray’s 138. Just a series of rapid-fire, matter-of-fact answers about his play and then – like Couture – a polite severance of the interview.
Jones concluded with:
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of. We’ll reflect in the next couple of days.”
Joe Pavelski, the playoffs’ leading goal scorer with 14, was the first player to speak after the loss, in fulfillment of his captain’s duties. Pavelski was silent throughout the Final but for a lone empty-netter in Game 5 – albeit amid injury concerns that DeBoer remained ambiguous towards in his post-game presser.
“It doesn’t feel like it should ever end. Then it stops the way it did. It’s a tough feeling. I don’t know (if there’s any consolation). It’s fun to have the opportunity to play for that and be right there and be that close. But at the end of the day its tough to lose.”
Then there was Joe Thornton, a manifestation in his own right of the tortured history of San Jose Sharks hockey. After being herded into a corner of the locker room, Thornton indulged reporters in peeling the bandages back for a modest look at his wounded spirit. Brent Burns was more candid.
“He’s a guy who means so much to everybody in the room. It’s tough not to climb the mountain with him all the way.”
The last player to emerge from the showers was Patrick Marleau, the second overall pick by the San Jose Sharks in the 1997 draft. Where the team’s younger players were able to express the lack of solace in glimpsing the mountain’s crest, Marleau couldn’t bring himself to mouth any context for the deepest playoff run of his 20-year career.
“”It’s hard to explain. We put a lot of hard work into it. To fall short, it’s just devastating.”
Marleau — who has a year left on his contract with the Sharks — ended by expressing his belief in hockey magic, seemingly because of this years so-close push rather than in spite of it:
“You can find that special group and put in the right work and have the right guys and timing. It can happen again.”