San Jose's season comes to a close as Chicago advances to the Stanley Cup Finals

Following their fourth straight loss against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks will catch a plane to San Jose tonight and wonder just how it all got away. A season of promise erased in four quick games. A series that was closer than the sweep will indicate, a series with three games decided by a single goal. A couple of bounces that just didn't manage to break their way.

Alas, the history books only smile upon the victors. The farther time travels away from today, the more this will haunt our very dreams. Days will punch and bleed into weeks. Months will trickle by as we sleep.

We're still only halfway home.

Breaking down today's game in one form or another is fruitless-- there are no critiques left that hold any type of value tomorrow, because there will be no tomorrow for the current manifestation of this organization. Certain players will enter free agency and pursue lands across North America where the grass is greener, while others will join the fray to bring the Stanley Cup to San Jose.

As mentioned before the series, Chicago was likely the better team on paper. And after witnessing the immense skill they exhibited during the course of the last four games, it's hard to find anything to really dispute that. The defense was stellar, the forwards were faster, the goaltending was magnificent. They capitalized on their chances, and despite giving up plenty of their own, refused to break.

Hats off to the Hawks-- it's a helluva team, and one helluva fanbase. Second City Hockey and the guys from HockeeNight are prime examples of funny, informed, and classy individuals who handle their business like gentleman.

As for San Jose, the questions will continue to crop up as to whether or not they deserve the choker label or not.

These questions have no merit.

It's going to be a big offseason for Doug Wilson as he attempts to improve the team with a limited amount of salary cap space, but after a solid playoff run the organization put together, there should be no doubt that this team had what it took to win in terms of intangibles. They were a proud and resilent cast, shaking the demons of game three against Colorado to fight back and eventually win the series. They took the fight to their historical nemesis Detroit and dispatched them in five games, cementing their place as one of the Western Conference's elite teams.

Between the ears, this group is fine. The fact is that they just got beat by a better team, top to bottom. There is no real shame in that, especially when one considers that three of those losses were tight affairs that could have gone either way. Maybe if Nabokov makes an extra save, maybe if Dany Heatley isn't playing on one leg, maybe if Joe Pavelski hadn't regressed to his normal level of play, maybe if Niclas Wallin had cleared a couple more pucks, maybe if Dan Boyle had gotten another couple shots through traffic, maybe if a bounce went this way or that, maybe if, maybe if.

The maybe's will ride shotgun through July, take the exit with us through the long summer doldrums of August, chip in for gas money during September. And once October hits, Mr. Maybe will hop into the backseat with all of the other luggage the organization has accrued over the last eighteen seasons, burning a hole in the back of everyone's head.

We will not rest until a Stanley Cup comes home to San Jose. For today, despite this blackened and burned husk of a heart that pumps burning oil through my veins, I am extremely proud to be a Sharks fan. This group of guys gave everything they had out there, and no amount of tears will change the fact that sweat is the only salt which will get them to where they want to be. Congratulations to the Sharks for a successful season, no matter what the pundits may say.

To all FTF readers, thank you for your service during the course of this year. It truly is a remarkable group of individuals we have here on this site, and I speak for all of the writers here when I say that we wouldn't bust our ass for twelve months out of the year without your feedback and discussion. All hands on deck this offseason, because we're going to need it.

A rough offseason plan is coming later this week. It's too early to think rationally about tangible improvements today when the pain is still fresh. I think I may need a sponsor.

Either that or a stiff drink.

God save us all. It's time to say goodbye.

Go Sharks.