SAN JOSE – Only Patrick Marleau has been around for each and every one of the Sharks’ disappointing playoff runs, now spanning a full decade. He’s well aware of the team’s reputation that it doesn’t have what it takes to make a serious run at the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.
After San Jose’s historic collapse in which they blew a three games to none lead against the Los Angeles Kings, not even Marleau could argue with the naysayers.
“You don’t usually agree with it, but then you do something like this, and it’s not easy to take,” Marleau said.
Brad Stuart added: "We obviously don't want to hear that kind of stuff, but what are we going to say? We were on the wrong side of history tonight. It's tough for us to argue with anything that's said. We let ourselves down, we let the fans down, we let everybody in our organization down. It's not a good feeling.”
The performances of the top players at the tail end of the series only adds fuel to the fire. Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns combined for a grand total of one goal and two assists over the four defeats. None of them found the scoresheet at all in the final three games, as the Sharks got just two goals from James Sheppard and Matt Irwin.
The Sharks outscored Los Angeles 17-8 in the first three games. What changed?
“I look at it as they fixed their problems, we didn’t,” Todd McLellan said. “Our problems got progressively worse as we went along. We were awful off the rush. … Every day we came to the rink and we tried to stress that about giving outnumbered rushes. We were never able to fix it. It’s frustrating, because during the year we were pretty good in those areas.”
The winning goal in Game 7 came just that way. Justin Williams got some room and skated the puck into the zone before finding Anze Kopitar cutting to the net. Kopitar made no mistake in faking Antti Niemi out of his skates to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.
“He made a nice move, and we weren't able to pick him up,” said Stuart, who was unable to prevent Williams’ pass to the slot.
Just like they did in Game 6, the Sharks sagged after falling behind. Tyler Toffoli’s goal at 4:40 of the third period basically put the game away, as the Sharks’ offense remained dormant thanks in major part to a power play that finished 0-for-6 on the night and 0-for-15 in the final three games.
“They just played real tight defensively and their goaltender got hot, like he usually does this time of the year,” Thornton said.
Dan Boyle said: “The power play didn’t get it done. It certainly won us some games early in the series and we had some chances. But if you don’t put the puck in the net, it doesn’t matter how many chances you get.”
While the Sharks seemed to play progressively worse after taking a 3-0 series lead, the Kings showed they are still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as they head into the second round against the Ducks. Their early series struggles are now a distant memory.
The Sharks, though, considered themselves contenders, too, with a roster that looked like it could do some postseason damage as it got healthy at just the right time. No one would have been surprised to see the evenly matched Sharks and Kings go the full seven games before the series started, but the way it progressed was hard to take in the Sharks’ dressing room after the game.
Thornton was particularly emotional, and seemed to get choked up when discussing his team’s latest failure.
“It’s just so disappointing. It’s just very, very tough right now,” he said.
Couture said: "Every year you lose is pretty low, but this one is a type of series that will rip your heart out. It hurts. It's going to be a long summer thinking about this one and what we let slip away.”