The San Jose Sharks are dead. Another Sharks season came to an end with postseason disappointment on Sunday night, this time at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. The NHL's newest team -- playing in their inaugural season -- eliminated the Sharks in six games to become the first team out west to advance to the conference final. They'll await either the Predators or Jets.
As for the Sharks, they're once again stuck trying to figure out what they can do to put them over the postseason hump. Let's break down where things went wrong this time around.
Advantage in top line production
One of the biggest differences in this series is what the teams were able to get out of their top talent on the front end. That scale is tilted heavily in the Golden Knights' favor.
San Jose had to shuffle their top line a bit due to Evander Kane's suspension and Joonas Donskoi's lower-body injury, but even when they were in the lineup they weren't very effective. Kane, Donskoi and Joe Pavelski combined for just five points, and they each finished the series with just one even-strength point. Kane and Pavelski were minus-5, Donskoi was a minus-3.
They weren't entirely healthy (more on that later), but they also weren't nearly good enough.
On the other side, the Golden Knights' top line was great. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith combined for 25 points, with 17 of those coming at even-strength. Marchessault was a plus-7, Karlsson a plus-5, and Smith a plus-3.
Both teams got pretty valiant efforts from secondary pieces, but the gap between the contributions from their most important players was pretty astounding.
What can you even say about Marc-Andre Fleury at this point? It seems crazy to think that a handful of years ago, the biggest knock on the guy was that he became a puddle in the postseason.
Now? He's led his team to the conference final in back-to-back seasons, and he's the leader in the clubhouse for Conn Smythe right now.
Fleury stopped 200 of 214 shots (.935) that came his way in this series, and many of them were purely absurd. He outright stole a big Game 3 from the Sharks with this ridiculous glove save in overtime.
Fleury had two shutouts in the series, adding to the two he had in the opening round against the Kings. His collective save percentage this postseason sits at a whopping .951. There's just no other way to put it – he's been insane.
(He also got a lot of help from the post in Game 6.)
Heading into the series, Fleury and Martin Jones were the two most impressive goalies of the young playoffs, both with save percentages at .970 or above. Those numbers weren't sustainable, but Jones fell much harder than Fleury.
He recorded an .895 save percentage over six games. While that number might be a little deceiving considering how good the Knights' attack was in terms of generating high-quality chances, Jones did give up some cringe-worthy softies.
It's hard to put a ton of blame on Jones, but he wasn't as good as he needed to be, especially with Fleury on the other end of the ice.
Another year, another brutal turn of events for the Sharks in the postseason health department come playoff time.
San Jose was holding out hope that it would get Joe Thornton back on the ice for this series, but it never happened. The veteran center had been out with a knee injury since January and was inching closer to a return, but not close enough to actually get into the lineup.
Who knows how much of an impact a 38-year-old Thornton -- equipped with junkyard knees -- would have been able to make against a speedy Golden Knights attack, especially after that much time off the ice. But having a potential impact player that close to returning and not seeing what he could've done is frustrating.
At least some of the aforementioned struggles of the Sharks' top line can be chalked up to injuries. Evander Kane was a very good fit with the Sharks after coming over at the trade deadline, and he helped provide an explosive offensive punch to the top of their lineup.
Unfortunately, that punch was made a lot weaker in Round 2. Not only was he suspended for Game 2, but he also played hurt this series. After Game 6, he disclosed that he had a separated shoulder and an MCL issue.
Donskoi, another impact performer on the top line, was pushed down in the lineup while dealing with a lower-body injury in Game 2, then was forced out of the lineup for Game 3.
They tried to shuffle the lineup in order to overcome the health problems, but the roster just wasn't deep enough for that to work.
Being forced to chase the Knights was a common theme in this series. The Sharks came into the series wholly unprepared for Vegas' attack, as evidenced by the absolutely embarrassing Game 1 performance that resulted in a 7-0 shellacking.
Not exactly how you want to start a series.
The Sharks also gave up the first goal in four of six games, forcing them to play to the Golden Knights' tempo rather than establishing momentum and controlling the game themselves.
Vegas seems like a particularly difficult team to play from behind against. The Knights are a fast, high-energy team that thrives with momentum on their side. Their offensive attack has a tendency to snowball, picking up steam with each positive sequence. Their pressure on the puck is relentless, especially when they've got the freedom to be aggressive.
San Jose often just seemed too hesitant and unprepared to take that freedom away.
That damn Vegas magic
Look at the Golden Knights. Now look at me. Look back at the Golden Knights. Look back at me.
None of this success makes any sense for an expansion team in their inaugural season. You know it. I know it. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE. There's some sort of weird magical spell cast upon this team and I demand to know what the hell is going on here.