SAN JOSE -- I know what makes Sharks fans crazy. It's the same thing that makes me crazy in a different way.

It makes Sharks fans crazy that their team is always good enough to be in the mix but never win the bowl. You know, the shiny one. The one that carries Lord Stanley's name.

And it makes me crazy trying to explain why.

That's because, to be honest, I can't always explain why.

Earlier this week, before the Sharks and Red Wings suffered their Game 7 defeats, only six teams remained in the NHL playoffs. Five of them were the five previous Stanley Cup champions. The sixth was the Sharks.

Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks skates back to the bench, as Trevor Lewis #22, Justin Williams #14 and Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings
Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks skates back to the bench, as Trevor Lewis #22, Justin Williams #14 and Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrate Williams' first goal of the second period of Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 28, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

But what happens if you list the cumulative regular-season records of those six teams over the past five years? Do you know where the Sharks finish on that list? Second. Behind only Chicago.

So how is it that the Sharks can be better in the standings over the last five years than all but one Stanley Cup champ ... but never get to the finals?

I can tell you the answer this time: They couldn't make just one more crucial play when needed -- or stop just one, when necessary -- against the Los Angeles Kings. Otherwise, for seven games, the teams were essentially equal.


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"It never felt like we couldn't play with them," centerman Joe Pavelski said Thursday at the team's practice facility, when the Sharks cleaned out their lockers. "We never felt overwhelmed. It was right there for us. That's the toughest part. There's certain times an extra bounce or two would help. But you've got to be able to earn that bounce. And we were a bounce or two short."

That's what makes hockey so frustrating to analyze. Did the beloved Los Tiburones fail to win a Cup this season because their players and coaches were inferior? No. They finished the postseason with a 7-4 record, including the first-round sweep of Vancouver. If the Sharks and Kings played another series right now, you get the feeling it would again be one bounce or two to decide it in a Game 7.

"It's a lot better, thinking back to last year," said Pavelski, referring to the inglorious 2012 Sharks that made a five-game first-round exit against St. Louis. "This one felt as good as any chance we've had."

The danger, then, might be in lumping this particular Sharks team with the last eight that have qualified for the playoffs and then fallen short. Those teams either inexcusably underachieved (2009) or had no chemistry (2012) or folded up when things got too brutal (2006).

This team was different.

The younger core (Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns) assumed a larger role while meshing with veterans (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle).

It was most mindful of the 2004 Sharks, who featured a youngish Patrick Marleau-Jonathan Cheechoo core that melded with tone-setting veterans Vincent Damphousse and Mike Ricci. That 2004 team lost to Calgary in the conference finals. But you sensed the Sharks were on track to be good for a while. So it was interesting to hear the words of general manager Doug Wilson in his postseason debriefing.

"I feel better today than I did in 2004 about where our team it at," Wilson said. "We're in a good place."

Wilson's philosophy is no secret -- he thinks that if the Sharks are competitive enough to reach the playoffs every season, then one year things will all click and the team will reach the finals. But after getting there for nine straight seasons, is there some flaw in the blueprint that prevents the ultimate payoff? It must be asked.

One would hope that in Wilson's offseason analysis, he examines every facet of the organization, including the minor league operation in Worcester that has made the playoffs just three times in the last seven seasons. Wilson says the team's primary purpose is to develop players. But it is also important to learn how to win.

For a change, the franchise is definitely in a replenishing position. Thanks to trade deadline deals, the Sharks own four picks in the first two rounds of this summer's entry draft. Also: Tomas Hertl, the Sharks' first-round pick of 2012, scored 18 goals in 43 games for his Czech League team this season and could make the 2013-14 roster as a 19-year-old third-line centerman. If so, Hertl would be the only first-round Sharks pick to make their roster since Couture, selected in 2007.

Since 1991, when the Sharks were born, younger NHL expansion teams such as Anaheim and Tampa Bay have won the Stanley Cup. So you can empathize with Sharks fans who have waited 21 years in vain. But they won't receive sympathy from local Giants fans who waited 52 years for their team to win a World Series -- or from fans of the 49ers, who had to wait 35 years for a title after the team played its first game in 1946.

Sports are probably supposed to drive you crazy. But maybe sooner than we think, the Sharks will stop the drive.

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