The San Jose Sharks exhibited heart, intensity and competence in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Problem is that one inevitably wonders where the hell they were in the previous games that led to their elimination by the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, in double-overtime.
Grunts like Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood outplayed their counterparts. The defense limited the time and space for the Sedins to make magic. Joe Pavelski became clutch again. Devin Setoguchi found the back of the net again. And Dany Heatley — DANY HEATLEY! — climbed off the back of the milk carton to pump six shots on Roberto Luongo and do so many little things in his own zone that you felt you were watching a Selke nominee.
Joe Thornton played well in Game 5 despite a separated shoulder. Ryane Clowe competed through his injuries, which Coach Todd McLellan said will "need to be repaired" this summer.
Yet in the end — and by that we mean in the end of regulation — there it was again for the 2010-11 San Jose Sharks: The Lapse. That momentary plunge into failure that subverts all of their success. And it cost them a victory.
They had seen this before. The two goals in 14 seconds for Willie Mitchell and Kyle Clifford in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings. The Ryan Smyth goal 18 seconds into the third period of Game 6.
The Darren Helm goal at 18:33 of the third in Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings. The Jonathan Ericsson and Danny Cleary goals less than two minutes apart in Game 5.
The Kevin Bieksa and Henrik Sedin goals 1:19 apart in the third period of Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks. The three power-play goals in 1:56 surrendered to Ryan Kesler and Sami Salo (twice) in the second period of Game 4.
In Game 5, after an icing call that probably shouldn't have been an icing call, it was Kesler again catching the Sharks in The Lapse with 14 seconds left in the third and Roberto Luongo pulled:
In that instant, the game was tied. About 30 minutes later, the Canucks were Stanley Cup Finals bound.
Said Coach Todd McLellan of his team's effort in Game 5:
"It's hard to find passengers today. We felt as good as the game wore on. We were playing our fourth line. They were playing three. We felt we had some control of the game.
"But we obviously didn't get the win, and that's what we came here before. The series itself, we lose a game possibly because of fatigue. We ran out of gas in Game 1. We lose our composure in Game 2. We get to Game 4 and it's a matter of about four minutes' worth of penalties. Tonight was bounces, in my opinion. We got better as the series went on."
One player who was better in Game 5 than he had been previously was Pavelski, of whom McLellan said earlier in the series: "He'll find his moments, his time in this series."
For a while, it looked like his time had come when the Sharks took a 2-1 lead on this hustle play:
The play began with a good outlet from Kent Huskins, playing in his fifth game of the series and the playoffs, who sent the puck to Pavelski with only Henrik Sedin guarding the blue line — Alex Edler having pinched in the offensive zone, Sami Salo having committed to guarding Clowe on the wing.
Pavelski chipped it, forcing Sedin to whiff on a clearing attempt, the puck bouncing along the ice as it had been all night. Suddenly, it was a 2-on-0 break for the Sharks, and Roberto Luongo decided to get aggressive. He made a desperation swipe at the puck … a split second after Pavelski dove and sent a desperation pass to Devin Setoguchi. The pass connected, Luongo spun out like a race car on a slick track and Setoguchi sent it into an empty net.
For the ever-enigmatic Setoguchi, it was his first goal since Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings but his seventh of the playoffs.
For the ever-enigmatic Setoguchi, it could be his last goal in teal.
He's a restricted free agent. Others like Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager (To Take Bad Penalties), Kyle Wellwood, Niclas Wallin and Ian White are unrestricted. Which is to say the supporting cast could be different for the Sharks in 2011-12, but the core of the team is locked up — provided it isn't blown up by management.
After the Sharks' elimination, McLellan was asked if the window for this conference championship bridesmaid was closing.
He wasn't happy about it.
"No. I think that's ridiculous. We have some very talented players that are under contract. We have a real strong core. We've learned a lot of lessons along the way. We've grown as a team. In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason why we can't be an elite team again next year, as we were the last three, four, five years. We expect to be there. That's the standard we live by.
"I said earlier, our task ahead of us is to get our asses back here in the Conference Finals and make good on it."
Or as Patrick Marleau — the embodiment of the Sharks' journey from gutless to gutty in these playoffs — put it: "I think a successful season for us is winning the Cup. Anything short of that is not good enough."