Stars club gasping Sharks out of playoffs

It was Fan Appreciation Night at the Tank in the Sharks’ final home game of the season Monday night. But the Sharks gave their fans little to appreciate with a 5-1 loss to the Stars, mathematically eliminating themselves from playoff contention.

San Jose had actually been eliminated before the puck even dropped, as a win by the Winnipeg Jets earlier in the evening closed the door on what has been a disappointing season for the Sharks.

Afterwards, head coach Todd McLellan spoke more about the season as whole than the game itself:

“We came in and the very first thing we told our guys in training camp is, ‘We’re here to win.’ And we did the least amount of that this season. It’s a tough pill to swallow. We’re all involved in it in some way, shape or form. And disappointing … very disappointing.”

Their fate in Monday’s game was also sealed early as the Dallas Stars scored just 28 seconds in and jumped out to a three-goal lead by the midway point of the second period.

Jamie Benn‘s second goal of the night with five minutes to play in the third period gave the Stars a 4-1 lead and eliminated any chance of a late comeback by the home team.

And, for good measure, Ryan Garbutt converted on a late breakaway goal, beating Alex Stalock on the backhand to send what was left of the sellout crowd scurrying for the exits.

A trite Logan Couture reflected on a poor effort from his team:

“You watch that third period – when we knew we were out of the playoffs – and it was bad. Selfish plays by guys, bad line changes, penalties. Play for each other, play with pride. It’s disappointing because we didn’t in the third. We let each other down, we let our goalie down.”

Photos by Thomas Mendoza/SFBay

The Sharks played with little energy or inspiration despite not knowing the result of the Winnipeg game before taking to the ice. They only mustered a single goal against Stars’ goaltender Jhonas Enroth — who had a 15-26-2 record and a 3.23 GAA entering the night — and managed few instances of sustained pressure.

The Stars’ first goal was a microcosm of the Sharks’ season, featuring yet another turnover by Brent Burns — who has struggled in moving from forward to defense this season — leading to a goal.

After Burns turned the puck over trying to clear the zone, Colton Sceviour put in the rebound off a shot by former Sharks’ defenseman Jason Demers. Burns’ turnover left the Sharks scrambling and out of position, allowing Sceviour a point blank opportunity in front of a helpless Stalock.

The early goal set the tone for a disappointing night. Said Tommy Wingels:

“It’s not what we want to do. It’s happened to us a few times this year where we give up a goal right away. Sharks hockey is doing that to your opponent, getting in right away and putting the pressure on them early.”

Eighteen penalty minutes were called in a chippy and physical first period, which featured a fight between Mike Brown and Antoine Roussel and a scrum after a hit by Barclay Goodrow on Tyler Seguin.

Goodrow was flagged for elbowing on the play, a questionable call which the Stars took advantage of with a late first period goal to go up 2-0. Off a shot from the point by Jason Spezza, Stalock denied Benn’s multiple attempts at scoring on the rebound, but Benn pushed it over to the other side of the crease, where Patrick Eaves netted his 12th goal of the season on an open net.

The Stars extended the lead to 3-0 at the 7:53 mark of the second period on a 5-on-3 power play goal by Benn. Consecutive penalties by Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns culminated in Benn roofing a wrister from point blank after a cross-ice feed by Seguin.

The Sharks knew that they had been eliminated from the playoffs by second intermission, but no one used that as an excuse for their lackluster performance. Pavelski remarked:

“Doesn’t change anything. We’re still competitors and still want to play. Should’ve had a better performance.”

Joe Thornton got the Sharks on the board later in the period with a slap shot that beat Enroth through the five-hole.

But that would prove to be the lone bright spot in an otherwise dull home finale and season overall at SAP Center, as the Sharks finish the season with more losses than wins (19-17-5) in a building where they usually dominate.

McLellan pinpointed the home record as a key reason why the Sharks won’t be playing beyond mid-April:

“That’s the reason why we’re not going to play in the playoffs. That’s a very frustrating thing. This building for years and years was a pretty sacred place to play in as a home team and we just didn’t have that this year here in our home building … We weren’t good enough at home and that’s probably what ended up costing us.”

Pavelski, as alternate captain and one of the leaders of the team this season, addressed the crowd after the game. His message?

“We appreciate what they do for us. Obviously we want to do better. We expect more out of ourselves. Ultimately, we play the game because we love it but we love our fans too. We love the city and we want better for them and for us.”

About an hour after the game ended, the maintenance crew lowered the iconic Shark head from the rafters, disassembled it, and removed it. Then, the zamboni swept the ice for the final time and left as the crew started removing seats starting from the lower level, one by one — all somber signs that the Sharks’ season at SAP Center is over far earlier than expected.

Notes

This is the first time in a decade that the Sharks have missed the playoffs. … Before the game, the Sharks called up forward Bryan Lerg, who has led Worcester in points and assists this season. Lerg, however, did not play tonight. … The Sharks are still without Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Scott Hannan and Mirco Mueller, all injured. … The Sharks announced Logan Couture as winner of the team’s “Three Stars of the Year” and Melker Karlsson as the Sharks’ Rookie of the Year. Joe Pavelski was named the team’s Player of the Year. … Attendance tonight was 17,562, a sellout.