SAN JOSE -- It does no good to tell Joe Pavelski that the better team won the Stanley Cup. It also does no good to tell him that the San Jose Sharks had a deep and valiant run toward that end.
All there is right now is the bilious taste of going so far and getting nothing but a handshake line from joyous opponents and red-rimmed eyes. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the well-deserving winners, and the San Jose Sharks’ dream has been approached but not achieved.
“I think right now,” the Sharks’ captain said in a funeral dressing room when asked if he would remember the good times or the gut-wrenching ones, “you probably remember the bad stuff first.”
That is the way of the athlete. Condolences are empty, commiserations are weak, handshakes feel like punches and pats on the back like daggers in the spine.
The Penguins finished what they attempted to do three days ago in Pittsburgh – finish off an essentially obstinate but overwhelmed Sharks team, and they did in a more-lopsided-than-the-scoreboard-indicated 3-1 win in Game 6. The Sharks, who had too few periods to call their own in this series, managed only to stand out in the second, and even in that one they managed only to tie the game through Logan Couture and then lose said tie 79 seconds later through Kris Letang.
The rest of the game was spent mostly in the San Jose end, and the third period, which the Sharks needed most desperately, was entirely Pittsburgh’s. The Pens controlled the play with an anaconda’s grip, to the point where San Jose managed only one shot on goal in the final 16:15, by rookie Joonas Donskoi with 46 seconds in a game already long gone.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Penguins end Sharks' season, win Stanley Cup]
It was, in fairness, the way this series should have ended, given the general run of play. Pittsburgh was faster, more aggressive, more adept at blocking shots and sealing off passing lanes, and their general control was such that the Sharks needed goaltender Martin Jones to achieve full earth orbit to keep the games close. He was easily San Jose’s best player, and in a series in which the Sharks managed only 12 goals, Jones alone would not be nearly enough.
But accepting that truth would have to feel better later. For Pavelski and the other Sharks, reduced to minimalist answers and devastated looks after so much time and effort spent chasing the cup, the hurt mattered more than the logic. Even the impromptu chant of “Let’s Go Sharks!” in the waning seconds by a largely shell-shocked crowd did little to cheer and nothing to change. Their hearts were in the right place, but the Penguins had stolen the rest of their insides long before.
It seems odd to say that given such a thin margin, but the fact is Brian Dumoulin’s long-distance power play goal 8:16 into the game had the feeling of a stab wound which no amount of stanching would seal. Pittsburgh was extraordinarily dominant with a lead, and the only game in which they never had the lead, Game 5, was one in which they were the better counterpunchers.
Plus, the Penguins never put themselves in vulnerable positions, committing only 11 penalties in the six games and allowing only one power play goal, to Tomas Hertl in Game 2. Given San Jose’s superior power play during both seasons, to get nothing in the final four games was both noticeable and crushing.
So Pavelski ended up explaining it all as a captain should, and having to stop the tears he had already shed and hold back the ones he was planning to unload later. Thoughts of next camp, and next season, and next playoff run were millions of miles away, and telling him of all San Jose’s young and appealing players mattered little more. Pavelski turns 32 in a month minus a day, and having to wait is not part of his plan, nor is it Joe Thornton’s, or Patrick Marleau’s, or Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s, or Logan Couture’s. Only four teams to lose the Cup Final in the last 20 years have come back to win it later.
In other words, it’s about the right now right now, and right now, right now stinks. The bromides of a happier tomorrow are, well, for tomorrow. Joe Pavelski’s eyes need time to lose their red.