As Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates passed around the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, the San Jose Sharks were in their locker room trying to put into words what it’s like to reach the Final after 25 years only to come up short.
“It’s just raw,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “The end is like hitting a wall.”
Forward Patrick Marleau struck a similar theme. “It’s a lot like being hit by a truck,” he said.
That truck has Pennsylvania plates. As was the case throughout the series, the Penguins outskated, outshot and disrupted the Sharks in their clinching 3-1 win in Game 6 at SAP Center.
San Jose certainly showed more pluck and resolve than the franchise’s previous playoff squads, which suffered from a lack of leadership and a killer instinct. But for extended stretches, the Sharks looked like the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning – talented squads that seemed ordinary against the fast, relentless Penguins in the playoffs.
Let’s be honest. Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating L.A. (and) on and on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer
“They played their game for longer stretches than we were able to. They dictated the play,” DeBoer said. “... We weren’t as good as them during the two-week period.”
The Sharks looked sharp in the second period, when they outshot the Penguins 13-11. But that was the exception. Pittsburgh outshot San Jose 27-19 Sunday and had a 206-137 advantage in the series.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third period, the Sharks needed a barrage of scoring opportunities to force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Instead, they managed just two shots against the Penguins’ stifling defense and squandered a power-play opportunity.
“We didn’t get shots through from the point and we didn’t get enough shots on goal,” said Logan Couture, whose second-period goal tied the score 1-1.
The Penguins typically struck first in the series, which they did Sunday after Sharks defenseman Dainius Zubrus went to the penalty box for tripping in the first period. The Penguins took advantage 26 seconds later when Brian Dumoulin’s shot from inside the blue line slipped past goaltender Martin Jones.
206 Shots by the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final
On San Jose’s goal, Brent Burns flipped a pass to Couture as he was crossing the blue line. With some open ice ahead, Couture skated in and fired a shot between goaltender Matt Murray’s legs for his 30th postseason point, the most in the NHL.
The Penguins, however, responded before Sharks fans could settle back into their seats.
Crosby, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP, didn’t have a goal in the Finals. But he was adept at keeping possession in San Jose’s end and finding open teammates. He did so again after skating behind the Sharks’ goal and passing to defenseman Kris Letang. His shot went over Jones’ shoulder, and the Penguins were ahead to stay.
Jones was the Sharks’ only notable advantage in the series. After stopping 44 shots in Game 5, he stonewalled a four-shot flurry from point-blank range in the second period and made a dramatic kick save on a shot by Nick Bonino in the third.
137 Shots by the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final
At 26, Jones gives the Sharks hope for the future. The team’s longtime leaders, Joe Thornton and Marleau, both 36, mostly were quiet in the Finals. Thornton had no goals and three assists. Marleau scored in Game 1, his only point in the series.
Instead, the Sharks’ punch was supplied by 20-somethings such as Jones, Couture, 27, and rookie Joonas Donskoi, 24, while captain Joe Pavelski, 31, provided the leadership.
DeBoer noted character questions plagued past Sharks teams. He insisted this one doesn’t have that issue.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating L.A. (and) on and on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.”
Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows