Sharks miss playoffs for 1st time since 2002-03

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said his team might need to take a step backward after last year's historic playoff collapse if the Sharks wanted to eventually reach their goal of a Stanley Cup championship.

That step was bigger than even Wilson anticipated and has left the Sharks out of the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

San Jose was officially eliminated from playoff contention Monday night and will be playing out the string in the final two games for the first time in more than a decade.

''We've been through a lot together and it hasn't been a lot of fun the past few months,'' coach Todd McLellan said Tuesday. ''Let's make sure we're still playing for each other and we're still playing hard.''

The Sharks play in Edmonton on Thursday and then finish the season in Los Angeles on Saturday when they could have a chance to knock the Kings out of the playoffs to provide perhaps a slight bright spot to a disappointing season.

After that, the team will face an uncertain future with the status of McLellan, Wilson and many players possibly in doubt.

''I don't want to talk about anything until we're done,'' McLellan said when asked about his future.

The problems for the Sharks this season started in the aftermath of last year's playoff loss to Los Angeles when San Jose became the fourth NHL team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.

Wilson talked problems with leadership and culture and Joe Thornton was ultimately stripped of his captaincy in a move that smoldered all season. Thornton bristled in the preseason at Wilson's suggestion that the Sharks were a ''tomorrow'' team and then lashed out at Wilson late in the season in a public feud, telling his GM to ''keep his mouth shut'' and ''stop lying.''

''We had a good team,'' McLellan said. ''We didn't succeed in the playoffs. We failed, we had a collapse, call it whatever you want. We should be better than we were this year.''

But instead of bolstering a roster that finished with 111 points last season and took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to the brink, the Sharks allowed defenseman Dan Boyle to leave as a free agent and traded defenseman Brad Stuart to Colorado. The biggest addition they made was fourth-line enforcer John Scott.

While players like Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson took advantage of opportunities they were given as the team tried to get younger, that was not enough to lift the team back to the playoffs.

''As hockey players, you want to give yourself an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. We're not going to have that chance this year,'' center Logan Couture said. ''Especially with the way last year ended, it's very, very disappointing.''

With power forward Brent Burns moving back to defense to replace the void left by Boyle's departure, San Jose was predictably done in by a lack of scoring depth up front. Despite three players with at least 60 points and five with 50 or more, the Sharks rank 14th in scoring.

The Sharks struggled defensively, allowing their most goals per game since the 2005-06 season. San Jose allowed opponents to score on 29.1 percent of power-play chances the past 29 games.

With those kinds of problems and a grueling schedule that included 16 of the first 21 games and 10 of the final 13 on the road, the Sharks were never able to find a groove.

The problems were especially stark at home, where San Jose had traditionally been one of the NHL's toughest teams. The Sharks lost 22 home games this season, their most since the 1996-97 season.

''We take so much pride in winning at home here and having such great fans,'' forward Tommy Wingels said. ''When you play like we did at home this year, first and foremost it's tough to look at yourself in the mirror as individuals and as a team.''

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