Historic rally a nightmare for Sharks
Kings continue push for Cup while Sharks left to pick up pieces after collapse
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Two California tales as different as they come.
The Los Angeles Kings rewrote the meaning of resilience and character.
The San Jose Sharks punched an entry in the worst section of the NHL record book.
Two great teams, slugging it out over seven games for a second playoff year in a row, but oh my, what a different chapter written in their respective media guides, as Wednesday night's 5-1 win by the visiting Kings capped an incredible series comeback.
"That was a great feeling," said star Kings blueliner Drew Doughty, who scored Wednesday night as you knew he would in a game this big. "Like we said from Game 4 on, Game 1 really, we believed in ourselves from the first game. Even though we went down 3-0, we were never going to give up."
Down the hall, the home dressing room was silent. Antti Niemi was staring into space with half his equipment still on, as if taking his pads off would confirm the Sharks' nightmare was not a dream but a soul-crushing reality.
One by one, glassy-eyed Sharks players came out to speak with the media, hardly hiding how they felt.
"Every year you lose is pretty low, but this one is a type of series that will rip your heart out. It hurts," said star Sharks center Logan Couture, who singled himself out for a disappointing series. "Personally, myself, I didn't play the way I wanted to. I'm one of the guys that's counted on big time to be successful, and I didn't get the job done when we needed to.
"It's going to be a long summer thinking about this one and what we let slip away."
Summer can wait for the Kings. They've still got work to be done this season. And as unbelievable as it is to be only the fourth team in NHL history to pull off a series win after being down 3-0, the veteran Kings were already looking ahead.
"This is something we're all going to remember for the rest of our lives," Doughty said. "We're not done yet. We have to move on. ... This will be in our heads tonight. That was an unbelievable feeling, a great team effort."
"It's one of those things I think you'll look back on later maybe," captain Dustin Brown said. "Right now we're just excited to get onto next round and get focused on Anaheim."
That was about the last thing on the Kings' mind four games ago, after Patrick Marleau's OT goal gave the Sharks a 3-0 series lead and seemingly put an end to the Kings' season.
Except somebody forgot to tell the Kings that.
Outscored 17-8 in the opening three games, the Kings stunningly turned the tables on the Sharks in outscoring them 18-5 over the final four games.
The turning point, as it turns out, was in that overtime loss in Game 3 -- despite the result.
"I think in Game 3 we felt like we could have kind of won that game," Doughty said. "They got one really lucky one in overtime. Instead of [feeling] sorry for ourselves and taking it that way, we were just more determined to get that back. We knew eventually that some luck would start turning our way and it did."
And what started to shift was that all those odd-man rushes the Sharks were enjoying early in the series began going the other way, as the Kings tightened up defensively and the Sharks began to force things, which in turn gave the Kings the puck on offense.
"When I look at it, I look at it as they fixed their problems, we didn't," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, who sounded more angry than disappointed in his postgame news conference. "Our problems got progressively worse as we went along. We were awful off the rush. They scored I don't know how many goals 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. I don't know if there's one point [when the series shifted] but that would sum it up."
Said Sharks captain Joe Thornton: "I think their defense just swallowed us up right now, to be honest with you. They just played real tight defensively and their goaltender got hot like he usually does this time of the year."
Indeed, Jonathan Quick did his thing again. It's why so many people picked the Kings to beat the Sharks to begin with.
It's not losing to the Kings in itself that's the issue for the Sharks. It's the embarrassing way it happened.
For a decade, the Sharks have battled the reputation of playoff underachievers, because despite three conference final appearances in a 10-year stretch and having played the second-most playoff games since 2004 (behind only Detroit), the perception from the outside is the Sharks have never been able to step up when it mattered most.
Just imagine what people are going to say now.
"You don't usually agree with it but then you do something like this, and it's not easy to take, you know?" Marleau, the longest-serving Shark on the club, said rather frankly when asked about his team's playoff rep.
"There's been a lot of low points, but yeah, this is definitely one of them, being up 3-0," he added.
McLellan wasn't ready to start diagnosing the changes that need to be made to this team. That will come in the weeks ahead.
But this much we do know: It's not the coaching. There are changes within this core of players that have to come if the Sharks are ever going to become a championship team.
It's a team that needs to be stronger mentally, that needs better goaltending and better quality depth on defense.
All of the above, by the way, are check marks for the Kings.
The 2012 champs and 2013 conference finalists proved yet again with this historical achievement that the Kings were built by GM Dean Lombardi for this time of year.
"We just have a lot of heart on this team," Doughty said. "We have guys who are so competitive, guys who want to win. That's how Dean built this team. He built it with guys who were so competitive, guys who will do anything to win. I think that showed. We never gave up and came back hard."
Brace yourself, Anaheim, the Kings are coming in hot and championship hungry.
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