The sun did come up on The Day After. It just didn't seem that way for the Sharks.
"The sting isn't going to lessen for a while," Joe Thornton said Wednesday morning of the 3-2 double-overtime loss to Vancouver the previous night that ended the Sharks' postseason run. "You're in the moment and fighting, and then something quirky happens; it's just done. Your season's over, and you feel so empty."
After the game, Logan Couture tweeted a single word: "Heartbreak."
And hours later, defenseman Ian White looked as if he still was processing the bitter, stunning conclusion to their postseason.
"You'd like to think we got beat by a better team, but I don't believe we did," White said. "This is probably the biggest disappointment I've ever had in my career."
But while the playoff exit wound was still fresh, Thornton insisted that brighter days are ahead.
"It's not like Logan, Patrick Marleau or myself and a lot of other guys are going to get worse," said Thornton, whose injured right shoulder was wrapped with an ice bag. "Hopefully, we're going to learn from this and be even better next year."
Although a few Sharks drifted through the team's practice facility Wednesday, the players had the day off before they meet a final time Thursday. It might take the entire offseason to get over the crushing end to Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
The Sharks first gave up the tying goal with 13.2 seconds remaining in regulation, then a wacky game-winner in the second overtime. The puck ricocheted off a glass stanchion directly to Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa, who finished the series with a wobbly shot past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi.
"It was a hell of an effort in the last game, but we still lost the series, and we didn't get to where we wanted to go," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Over the past four seasons, the Sharks have won four Pacific Division titles and the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular-season record, and they have made two consecutive trips to the Western Conference finals. Yet the sense remains that this franchise still hasn't lived up to its potential.
But McLellan, echoing Thornton's sentiments, said the devastating end to this season can be a springboard for next year.
"If you're weak, it can knock you down a notch or two," he said. "But I don't think we're weak. But what just happened can teach us a valuable lesson. I don't think it should set us back at all. It should make us even hungrier."
McLellan added that he took it as a good sign that the Sharks were much more "bumped, banged and bruised" this postseason than a year ago -- evidence that they're willing to pay the price.
Ryane Clowe was hurt all playoffs with an upper-body injury that needs "to be repaired," McLellan said. In addition to the separated shoulder that Thornton suffered in Game 4 against the Canucks, the Sharks captain injured his left pinkie in a game against Dallas late in the season. Compensating for that injury also created pain in his right wrist.
"My pinkie went in a different direction than it was supposed to," said Thornton, the Sharks' best player in the postseason with 17 points. "The top just got cut off, and they had to put it back together."
He will need surgery on the finger this week, but the shoulder is expected to heal with rest.
Meanwhile, McLellan said the Sharks must immediately begin making decisions about how to move forward.
San Jose has a host of unrestricted free agents: White, Ben Eager, Kent Huskins, Jamal Mayers, Scott Nichol, Niclas Wallin and Kyle Wellwood. Also, Devin Setoguchi, Jamie McGinn and Benn Ferriero are restricted free agents, meaning the Sharks can match any offers the players might receive from other teams.
White made it clear he wants to return.
"They've got a special group here, and it's only a matter of time before they break though," he said.
A priority probably will be figuring out how to improve a blue line that already was suspect even before Jason Demers missed the Vancouver series because of an unspecified injury.
Then there is Dany Heatley. The Sharks' highest-paid player had a subpar postseason. He scored a goal just 28 seconds into the playoffs against Los Angeles but ended with only three goals and six assists in 18 games.
Heatley, 30, appears to have slowed a step. And he still is owed $19 million over the next three seasons.
The core of this team: Thornton, Marleau, Niemi, Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle are tied up through the 2013-14 season. The highest-paid players -- Heatley, Thornton, Marleau and Boyle -- all have no-movement language in their contracts.
Thornton sounded confident that the Sharks already have the main ingredients to win a Stanley Cup.
"Coming home it was very quiet," he said of the flight from Vancouver. "We were all thinking about what could have happened. We fell short, and that's disappointing. But I honestly believe that we're going to continue to get better."
The Sharks captain added that he is done with hockey for the rest of the postseason.
"But I might watch the winner hoist the Cup to remind myself what we need to do to win it next year," he said.
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.
Cal's Kevin Moen bowled his way through the Stanford band for a Big Game-winning touchdown.