If the St. Louis Blues had not been the first-round opponent, maybe the San Jose Sharks find a way to advance in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Perhaps if it's another team that didn't dominate them in the regular season, get torrid on the power play and have outstanding goaltending, the Sharks would be alive. They didn't exactly get the bounces, either.
Instead, last year's Western Conference finalist, and a team picked by many (and yours truly) to win their first Stanley Cup this season, is out after five games.
So what do the Sharks do now?
This game was a microcosm of the Sharks' struggles this season. Joe Thornton makes a play in the second period to give them a lead. The defense and Antti Niemi play well. And then … a gaffe, as Niemi bobbled a puck and allowed Jamie Langenbrunner to score his first of the playoffs. And then … a lapse, as David Perron scored 45 seconds later, tipping an Alex Pietrangelo point shot.
Andy McDonald scored his fourth of the playoffs into an empty net for the 3-1 Game 5 win, sending the Blues to Round 2 for the first time since 2002.
Nothing from Patrick Marleau and nothing from Joe Pavelski, who were both scoreless for the series. Nothing from Ryane Clowe, who was a minus-3 in the game. Nothing from Martin Havlat, who was a minus-2, and nothing from Brent Burns, who was a minus-1, two players brought in last summer to make the Sharks champions. But hey, trade deadline pickup Daniel Winnik had a point … even if TJ Galiardi didn't play.
There's no sugar-coating what a massive disappointment this season was for the Sharks.
GM Doug Wilson made aggressive moves that were intended to turn a conference contender into a Cup champion; instead, they needed the final week of the season to make the cut and went out in one round. Instead, it's another playoff series in which regular-season scoring leaders wear a cloak of invisibility in the playoffs.
McLellan's probably toast. I hate to say it and I'll hate to see it, because I think he's a good coach, but I can't imagine he survives this. The Sharks have 14 players under contract for next season, many at a significant salary. It'll be easy to swap out the coach than it'll be to blow up the core, and then hope the change in voice sparks the team.
Niemi is signed through 2015, but they need to address the position. Maybe you package him in a Hail Mary trade for a star veteran netminder (paging Ryan Miller), attempting to shore up what's been one of the shakiest aspects of the 2011-12 Sharks. For a team that doesn't exactly exude confidence in the postseason, Niemi inspires little on his own.
The window for this team is two years. That's when Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and Boyle all go UFA. It's going to be fascinating to see how Wilson assesses and addresses one of the biggest busts of the 2011-12 season.