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May 30, 2013 | 10:02am ET
Another end in San Jose
By Molly Melissa Mandell, TheFourthPeriod.com

Yet again, the season has ended prematurely for the San Jose Sharks.

On Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Sharks 2-1 in Game 7 moving on to the Conference Finals, and once again leaving the Sharks wondering if they will ever get their chance.

"So close," young star Logan Couture told the San Jose Mercury News after the loss. "We just couldn't score on our chances. That's what it comes down to."

For nine consecutive years, the Sharks have appeared in the NHL playoffs. They, however, have yet to find themselves playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

It would be wrong to say that San Jose has been an unsuccessful franchise. Nine years of playoff hockey is a lot. On the other hand, it's a long time to go without even a chance at the Cup.

It would also be wrong to say this year was a bad one for San Jose. After a quick postseason appearance in the 2011-12 season, where the Sharks fell to the St. Louis Blues in just five games, many gave up on the team, suggesting their window had closed.

Then, San Jose surprised everybody by starting the lockout-shortened 2013 season with a seven-game winning streak. Sure, they followed that streak with a seven-game skid, but nonetheless, this season, when the Sharks were playing well, there was a sense of toughness and grittiness and an energy that was not so apparent in previous seasons.

Now, despite that, the critics will emerge, once again suggesting that after being ousted in the second round, this team's window has closed, and you will wonder if this time it really has.

San Jose certainly has some work to do. The Sharks were fairly active at the trade deadline, making several significant moves that shipped Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe, and Michael Handzus out in return for Raffi Torres and Scott Hannan.

"The group that we ended up with after the trade deadline could have went one way or the other," Coach Todd McLellan told CSN Bay Area. "We're in transition a little bit as an organization with some of the moves we made, but I thought the way they banded together and played for each other and with each other was exceptional."

Nevertheless, as the team's veteran core continues to age, the Sharks are going to have to acquire young talent. It has been rumored that 19-year-old Tomas Hertl, a first-rounder in the 2012 NHL Draft, could join the team as early as next year, but in general, the team lacks a great deal of younger talent coming in. For San Jose, the upcoming 2013 draft, as well as the draft in 2014, is going to be especially important.

As for the current team, there are some tough decisions to make. For the better part of the decade, veteran players Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the face of the franchise. Both, who will be 34 years old by the time the 2013-14 season begins, have one year left on their contracts and GM Doug Wilson is going to start thinking about their role in San Joseís future.

Critics can talk, but it is unlikely that the team is going to blow anything up just yet.

This season, 24-year-old Couture emerged, becoming a core member of the team and likely earning his position as the club's future leader. Meanwhile players like Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Brent Burns, all in their prime, have began taking on greater leadership roles alongside the young center. While they have things to improve upon, this group really seems to be coming together.

As for goaltending, San Jose doesn't have much to worry about. Antti Niemi, up for the Vezina Trophy, posted a 1.87 goals-against-average and .930 save percentage in the playoffs.

While it may have been another disappointing end to the season for the Sharks, on the ice, there was a team that, as Joe Thornton said to the Mercury News, "played [their] hearts out" and didn't look too bad doing it. After all, the team swept Vancouver in Round 1 and dragged Round 2 out to seven games.

"It was a really positive sign for our organization, not only for the playoffs, but moving forward," McLellan told CSN. "It's not about one or two guys. It's about the group as a whole, and they accepted that, and we have something to build on moving forward."

It's not so much about the window closing for the Sharks. Itís about focusing on the future more than the past, and it seems that San Jose is doing just that -- and yes, with the group they already have.


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