After the San Jose Sharks beat the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday – thus advancing to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history – the Sharks did what you would expect. They smiled, they hugged, they celebrated. They also posed – but did not touch – the Clarence Campbell Trophy, which is awarded annually to the Western Conference champions.
It was a wonderful night for a franchise that has been so good and yet suffered so much playoff heartbreak over the last decade and beyond.
And yet, Dan Rusanowsky noticed something about the team he has covered since its inception in 1991. He noticed relief and joy, yes, but he also noticed resolve and hunger.
“Along with some of the tears of joy and a lot of the smiles were some steely-eyed guys who walked back into that locker room and said, ‘We didn’t come this far to come this far,’” the Sharks radio voice said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They said, ‘If you don’t win the next round, it almost makes this not worth it. You really need to come back and get back to business. Let’s enjoy this tonight and then let’s move on.’ Pete DeBoer basically said the same thing to those guys after he walked into the locker room. But the story that I heard was that there were a couple of veteran hockey players on that team that said, ‘This is great, but there’s still a lot to play for.’”
Yes, there is.
While Shark stalwarts Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both 36, have been great in the playoffs – they’ve combined for 30 points – captain Joe Pavelski has provided great production (13 goals, nine assists), not to mention great leadership
“He hates to lose – and I know that’s almost a silly statement because what professional athlete likes to lose? None of them do,” Rusanowsky said. “But when I say it, I say it in a way that basically puts an exclamation point next to that part of his resume – the idea that his competitive nature is so intense and his work ethic is so good, (especially) alongside Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both of whom have the same characteristic that way. But when the game is on the line and it’s time to win, Joe Pavelski is always at his best when it matters the most. When he speaks, people listen. He’s very comfortable with dealing with he media and all of the other responsibilities of being the captain.”
That allows Thornton and Marleau, two former Sharks captains, to lead in different ways on the ice.
“That’s where you see Joe Thornton putting this head down and back-checking ferociously, something he didn’t always do as a younger player in Boston,” Rusanowsky said. “But he has been so responsible. I think he’s been one of the best defensive forwards in the game this year, and that really is one of the reasons why he ended up on the other side of the rink with opportunities offensively with an 80 point season and with a great postseason that he’s having. Check out the game tonight. How many times did he go back and make great defensive plays, and yet there he is getting his 100th career playoff point on that first goal that Pavelski scored.”
The Sharks will face either the Penguins or the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay will square off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.