Heading into tonight’s Game Seven action in Los Angeles, five of the six teams remaining in the National Hockey League playoffs had won the Stanley Cup in the last five seasons.
And then there were the San Jose Sharks: owners of the second-most regular-season wins over the last 15 seasons, but winners of nothing important along the way.
It will remain another Cup-less season in San Jose after Game Seven, too, as the Sharks lost, 2-1, to the Los Angeles Kings tonight in their second-round playoff series finale.
Thus, San Jose once again ends its season short of the ultimate goal, and this is now a recurring nightmare for the Sharks and their fans.
Los Angeles scored two goals in the second period, less than three minutes apart, and that’s their magic number: when the Kings score two goals, they’ve won their last 21 consecutive postseason games.
The Sharks managed a goal in the third period to make it closer courtesy of Dan Boyle, but they didn’t get a lot of scoring chances down the stretch. Joe Pavelski had a great look with about four minutes left in the game, but he couldn’t get the puck on his stick cleanly — and he failed to score the equalizer.
San Jose outshot Los Angeles 26-18, but as has been the case all season, that didn’t matter much. The Sharks were fourth in the NHL this years in shots on goal, but they were just 24th in goals scored — a disconnect they couldn’t overcome, even with often-stellar play from goaltender Antti Niemi.
As noted, San Jose needed their goalie to steal this series, and while Niemi played solidly enough tonight with 16 saves on 18 shots, he couldn’t get the shutout the Sharks probably needed to win this game and advance to the conference finals.
So the long offseason begins again for San Jose with many questions, and the foremost is the same one: will the Sharks ever win the Stanley Cup?
All we know is that it won’t be this season, and that’s a familiar answer.
San Jose will long regret Game Two here in Los Angeles, where they blew a one-goal lead in the final two minutes and lost a game they could have won.
And if the Sharks want any shot at winning the Cup in 2014, they’re going to have to learn to win the third period and not let teams steal wins from them. This fatal flaw cost them again this season, albeit not tonight, directly.
But perhaps this Game Seven never would have been necessary if they’d just won Game Two: that’s the indirect effect of blowing leads you shouldn’t.
Now they have many months to ponder, “What if?”, of course, as do the fans.
Bring on baseball season.