Games--and, really, series--like this one are hockey's version of a Rorscach test. Some will see the Sharks' 2-1 loss to Los Angeles in Game 7 as an excuse to extend the narrative that Joe Thornton is a playoff disappointment, ignoring his dominant performance throughout this series that forced a deciding contest. Some will use it to anoint Jonathan Quick the greatest goaltender who ever lived which, I mean, is probably a bit fairer after a seven-game set in which he stopped nearly 97% of the Sharks' even-strength shots, including a few highlight-reel saves to preserve this victory. And many will write it off as another choke job by team teal as the window slams shut on this core's chance to secure the franchise's first Stanley Cup, despite them giving the defending champions all they could handle and being ultimately downed by a better team.
My personal takeaway is that shit happens. Someone has to emerge victorious from every playoff series, even ones as tightly-contested and evenly matched as this one. As searing as this loss was and as much as it will continue to burn throughout a mercifully shortened offseason, the Sharks can take some small comfort in being a far tougher out for L.A. than any of the teams the Kings faced during their Cup run last spring. Someone had to win Game 7 and the defending champions, re-invigorated by the lineup changes they made prior to Game 5 that gave them a true three-line attack, rode a pair of Justin Williams goals and a host of spectacular Quick saves to a home-ice victory.
But that isn't necessarily an indictment of the Sharks' play in this one or the series at large. Despite the boundless joy outside observers derive from referring to every San Jose playoff loss as a digestive malfunction, the Sharks outplayed a Kings team that has been better than them for two seasons running for much of a series in which the margin of error was razor-thin. Things swung ever-so-slightly in the Kings' favor tonight--a questionable call on Brent Burns, a horrific line change, Joe Pavelski failing to elevate the puck while staring down an open net--and as a result the Sharks are going home while the Kings are heading to Chicago or hosting Detroit.
If we're pinpointing a moment where the Sharks let this series slip away, it wasn't Pavelski shooting a bouncing puck right into Quick's outstretched glove and it wasn't Antti Niemi failing to hold down the fort with his right pad on Williams' power play goal. It was the final two minutes of Game 2, a contest the Sharks had in their grasp but let slip away courtesy a pair of bad penalties. San Jose was better than L.A. for the first four games of this series but only emerged from those contests with two wins; the extra victory that they were 1:43 away from securing would have come in handy after the Kings once again started to resemble kings.
But it's over now. A roller coaster season has come to a screeching halt. And despite the crushing disappointment of another postseason defeat, it's difficult to say this wasn't a fun ride while it lasted.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Jonathan Quick
2nd Star: Justin Williams
3rd Star: Joe Pavelski
Thanks to everyone who stopped by this year during a bizarre, shortened season and the lockout that preceded it. Be sure to stick around for our post-mortem of this series as well as tons of offseason coverage and thanks again for reading.