Game 5 notes: Sharks face offseason issues

Game 5 notes: Sharks face offseason issues
May 25, 2011, 8:05 am
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May 24,2011

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TimPanaccioCSNCalifornia.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Ryane Clowe probably said it best on Monday evening.

Standing with a couple reporters inside a hotel ballroom with a panorama of the Vancouver seaport and the mountainous expanse of British Columbia in the background, Clowe nodded his head.

Theres a lot of pressure on us already because were going to be question marks after the season, he said.

The questions begin this morning and likely will continue in the weeks ahead as Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan attempt to unravel another postseason failure.

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Vancouver advanced to its first Stanley Cup Final since 1994 on Tuesday night, eliminating the Sharks in Game 5 with a 3-2 double-overtime victory that clinched the Western Conference championship.

Vancouvers Kevin Bieksa won it with an unusual shot from the blue line.

Six times now since 2004, the Sharks have lost to the eventual conference champs.

Ron Wilson failed then. McLellan has failed two years in succession after being swept out by eventual Cup champion Chicago last May.

We still got a lot of years, team captain Joe Thornton said. Our core group still has three years left. Well come back and be more hungry next year To get here is an accomplishment, but next year, we have to beat it.

Make no mistake. McLellans group seemed good enough to win the West, but self-destructed during several games against Vancouver.

When the series began, the tortured souls of Silicon Valley recognized one of these franchises would finally unburden itself of carrying around the label as chronic losers when May gave way to June in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For the Sharks, its like a harpoon weighing them down at the dorsal fin.

Theyll carry that underachieving label one more season.

Doug Wilson has seven unrestricted free agents -- and three restricted -- to contend with, though the core of the club remains intact.

We have some very talented players that are under contract, McLellan said. 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.
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That said, there should be discussions about what to do with chronic playoff underachiever Dany Heatley, who has another three years left on a deal that pays him 7.5 million annually against the salary cap.

Heatley had just one assist in the series.

Im obviously frustrated, Heatley said. I didnt produce enough in the series. We lost.

The window continues to close but again, the core is here for several more years. Whether it will include Heatley remains to be seen.

Its a lost opportunity, we feel that way, no question, Heatley said. We feel we still have a good a team.

The game winner: Bieksa on his knuckeball from the blue line that won it: I shot it, and I think when the puck went in, the goalie was looking behind the net, so its an ugly goal but definitely one youll take, he said. Obviously, it feels unbelievable. To go to the Stanley Cup Final is a dream come true. To do it with this group of guys Our core has been here for seven, eight years, working toward something special, and we have a huge opportunity ahead of us now.

Loose pucks: This was the longest playoff game for the Sharks since their four-overtime Game 6 marathon against Dallas in 2008. Raffi Torres, who threw his share of clean, hard hits in the series and injured Sharks captain Joe Thornton with a legal shoulder-to-shoulder check in Game 4, plowed into defenseman Douglas Murray in the first period. It sounded like two woolly mammoths colliding. Despite a bad right shoulder, Thornton had four shots in the opening period, two during an unsuccessful 5-on-3 power play. Couldnt lift the puck? The Canucks took 10 first period penalties in the series. Canucks were outshot 15-to-6 that period with each of their six defensemen getting at least one block. Thornton took some faceoffs, allowing Patrick Marleau to take neutral zone draws and eventually, all of them, as Thornton took just one draw in the second period. Through two periods, Canucks out-blocked the Sharks, 21-8. Vancouver had 29 blocks in the game. Thornton had a separated shoulder while Clowe had a shoulder injury from the beginning of the playoffs that may require surgery, McLellan said.
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider forCSNPhilly.comE-mailhim at tpanotch@comcast.net