When looking to diagnose the root cause of the San Jose Sharks' 2010 Western Conference Finals loss, one has many options to consider.
The Blackhawks had better team speed. The Sharks' power play lacked urgency. There was too little traffic in front of Antti Niemi and too much in front of Evgeni Nabokov.
The Joe Show (Pavelski and Thornton) took an intermission at precisely the wrong time. The Sharks showed resolve, but the proverbial 60-minute effort eluded them, and they failed to hold leads (having scored the first goal in three of the four games).
Perhaps the bulk of the blame, however, rests on details and execution. Whether it was Nabby letting in a soft goal or two, a questionable pass leading to a high turnover, or a defensive lapse leaving a dangerous scorer (<cough> Byfuglien <cough>) wide open in the slot, key mistakes in critical moments contributed more than any other aspect to all four Sharks losses in the series.
In Game One, leading 1-0, Nabby allowed what amounted to little more than a dump in to tie the game when he failed to close the five-hole. Then the Sharks got caught focusing on the puck-carrier behind the net late in the third, leaving Dustin Byfuglien wide open in the high slot for the game-winning goal.
In Game Two, after Patrick Marleau scored on the power play to bring a 3-0 game back within reach going into the third, a bad turnover by Niklas Wallin behind his own net caught the Sharks on a change and led to a redirect goal from Troy Brouwer on a Niklas Hjalmarsson slap shot to restore the three-goal lead early in the third and kill the potential comeback momentum.
In Game Three, a blue line turnover led to a Dave Bolland break away where Nabby flinched first, allowing a nifty dangle to give the Blackhawks the late lead. After tying the game to force overtime, the Sharks again left Dustin Byfuglien wide open near the high slot in overtime, dooming them to a crushing defeat on a shot Nabby never saw.
In Game Four, despite a short-handed goal and a second-period two-goal lead, a disputed goal seemed to shake the Sharks' collective focus and another mistake behind the net—this time Logan Couture allowing Dave Bolland to slip away with the puck—wound up behind Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game. The rest is history.
Recently, I wrote an article impugning the Sharks organization for lacking the swagger (or arrogance if you like) necessary to bring home the Stanley Cup. They may well need an infusion of new blood to change this, but regardless of who dons teal in 2010-11, focus and execution will be the biggest keys.
Some amount of roster shuffling is inevitable this off-season, given the financial and contractual situation in San Jose. However, even with the arrival of new talent and shuffling of lines, momentary lapses in execution could still doom the Sharks next season.
The Sharks need to consider every potential deal and re-signing and assess whether it improves the team. They also need to be careful to avoid the pitfall of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers: reacting to the loss suffered against a particular opponent and system. That might have contributed to the Sharks' ultimate demise in the playoffs this year, as they finally managed to beat the Detroit Red Wings at their own game, but were not up to the task of beating another talented, but highly different opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Sharks need to be a better team in 2010-11 against any opponent, not just Chicago. Tactful transactions and a steady regimen of detail-oriented practice are the recipe.
Keep the Faith!