LOS ANGELES – There were five minutes left in Game 7 when Joe Pavelski’s eyes lit up like an eight-year-old on Christmas morning, as the rebound of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot hopped precisely in his direction.
An open net in full view, the puck bounced over the Sharks winger’s stick. He stayed with it, though, and probably figured he was about to tie the win-or-go-home match against the Kings at 2-2.
Instead, goaltender Jonathan Quick lunged out with his left arm extended as far as it could go. Pavelski failed to get any air underneath his shot, and the result was the most important save in a series that was as close as any in the league in recent memory.
The Kings held on for the 2-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a series that the home team was a perfect 7-0. A disappointed Pavelski talked about his scoring chance after the game.
“I thought I had to jam it in right away when I had to regroup it. I thought I was getting more pressure than what I was,” he said. “I thought I had a quick second to get it back, but you go back and you see it on the jumbotron four times, and right away it’s one that’s an easy flick of the wrist up. It’s one you’ve got to have right at the very end.”
Of course, the loss is certainly not all on Pavelski’s shoulder pads. The Sharks had several good chances to score against Quick, including Logan Couture’s backhander from the slot early in the second period when the game was still scoreless. The goaltender allowed just Dan Boyle’s shot through heavy traffic in the third period to get past him, and surrendered just 10 goals in the seven game series.
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner from a year ago looks just as good as he did during the Kings’ 2012 championship run. But, running into a hot goaltender is no consolation to the Sharks, who failed to advance to their third Western Conference finals in four seasons after sweeping Vancouver in the first round.
“We played our hearts out, and that’s all you can ask of each other. We had to lay it on the line in the third, and I thought we did,” said Joe Thornton, referring to San Jose’s 14-4 shot advantage in the final frame. “Jonathan Quick is just a fantastic goalie. It’s disappointing right now. We were just having so much fun. It’s disappointing that it has to end, because we were really enjoying this. It’s a tough way to finish.”
Couture said: “It’s heartbreaking. It’s tough. It’s been a long year. We battled hard to get where we were. We made some changes (at the trade deadline), and played a good first round, then forced I think the best team in the league to seven games and almost beat them in their building. It’s tough to take.”
The Kings scored first on a power play goal when Slava Voynov broke his stick on a slapper from high in the zone. Justin Williams managed to poke it through Niemi trying to protect the near post at 4:11 of the second.
The team that scored first won all seven games in the series.
“When you break a stick, the timing of that shot fools everybody, including the goaltender,” Todd McLellan said. “That was a tough one.”
Less than three minutes later, it was Williams again on a one-timer at 7:08, for his fifth career goal in four Game 7 appearances.
McLellan said: “We overextended a shift, and they took advantage of it. In the end, we probably made one more mistake than they did. And, we couldn’t find a way to get another puck by Quick.”
The Sharks’ biggest failure in their four losses at Staples Center was the power play, but San Jose had less than two minutes total on an advantage in Game 7. Officially the Sharks were 0-for-2, but only enjoyed one minute and 38 seconds of total power play time.
San Jose was 0-for-12 on the power play in the four losses. Conversely, it had at least one power play goal in each of its three wins.
“When I look at the game tonight, they get a power play goal that we didn’t get,” McLellan said.
Five of the seven games were decided by a single goal, including four that ended with a 2-1 final.
“So close,” Couture said. “Both teams played good hockey. Every game was so tight. We just didn’t score on our chances. That’s what it came down to tonight. We could have had three, but Quick made saves, and we didn’t score. That’s the difference.”
Pavelski said: “We never felt overwhelmed against this team. We knew we could beat them right away. It’s just disappointing.”
Unlike Game 5’s 3-0 defeat, the Sharks’ worst performance of the postseason, the Sharks were in this one until the final horn.
Were it not for the Kings’ goaltender, and that little extra bounce on Pavelski’s third period try, the Sharks might still be playing.
Instead, the 21st season in franchise history is over, still without a Stanley Cup.
“That’s what teams do when they move on, they score on those chances they get,” Couture said. “They did it and we didn’t. That’s why they are moving on.”
Pavelski said: "They’re the champs, and they got a few more bounces. Usually when you’re playing the champs, you’ve got to earn your victory. And they got the extra bounce."