SAN JOSE – Consider that one step backwards that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson talked about in the offseason officially taken.
In the final home game of the season Monday night, the Sharks were outclassed by the Dallas Stars, 5-1. Just a few minutes into the game, their non-playoff fate was sealed thanks to a Jets win over Minnesota.
There are still two games to go, both on the road, but when the autopsy on the 2014-15 campaign is performed, the principal cause of death will be the team’s home mark. The Sharks ended up with a combined 23 home losses, 17 of which were in regulation, and just 19 victories at SAP Center.
After the game, Joe Pavelski addressed the crowd in a duty typically assumed by the team’s captain.
“I just want to say that nobody on this bench is satisfied with the position we're in right now,” said Pavelski, microphone in hand. “It's disappointing for us. We expect more out of each other. But with that said, we really appreciate the passion and energy you guys bring to the Shark Tank every night for us. And we'll do better next year.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks drop finale at home to Stars]
After the game, Todd McLellan told the media: “This building, for years and years, it was a pretty sacred place to play in as a home team, and we just didn‘t have that this year. … We’ll look back at our season and everybody will have an opinion about moments or games, but you have to look at it as a whole and add it all up. We weren’t good enough at home, and that‘s what probably ended up costing us.”
They won’t get a chance to redeem themselves until next fall, of course, as the SAP Center will be dark during the first round of the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Although they weren’t mathematically out of it until Monday, the Sharks’ chances were essentially zero after Saturday’s 5-3 loss in Arizona. Still, after making the playoffs for 10 straight seasons, this is new territory for several of the team’s veterans, and they’re upset.
Pavelski said: “I think the biggest thing that's disappointing is when the playoffs come around and you get that first home game, there's nothing like it. It's awesome. That's what's going to be tough not to be a part of this year.”
“It sucks,” Logan Couture said. “There’s nothing else you can really say. As hockey players, you want to give yourself an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. We’re not going to have that chance this year. Especially with the way last year ended, it’s very, very disappointing.”
The Sharks do have two games left, on Thursday in Edmonton and Saturday against the Kings, where they could potentially end Los Angeles’ playoff hopes in what would be an ironic twist.
If they’re going to finish strong, though, they’ll have to be much better than they were against the Stars, who are also free to make early offseason vacation plans.
According to Couture, the Sharks found out the result of the Jets game in the second intermission. From there, trailing 3-1 at the time, they proceeded to play an unfocused third period and the Stars put the game away with the only two goals of the frame.
“Play with pride,” Couture said. “You can say that as much as you want, and you watch that third period when we knew we were out of the playoffs – it was bad. Selfish plays by guys, bad line changes, penalties. Play for each other, play with pride.”
Tommy Wingels said: “We believe in the guys in this room, and a great way to show each other that you do is to play hard, and do things for each other in these last two games.”
What happens after those two games is to be determined, as the Sharks will prepare for their most uncertain offseason in more than a decade. For now, though, there is only the discontent of not getting the job done this season.
“We got to figure a few things out, and hopefully we can play well these next couple games,” Pavelski said. “We're going to play hard. We will, and, go from there."