Will the San Jose Sharks regret extensions they signed Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton to last fall? They are tethered to two veterans turning 35 before next season who have now been part of two teams in four years to blow a 3-0 Stanley Cup playoff lead after falling to the Los Angeles Kings Monday, April 28.
True, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were part of both teams and signed extensions two years longer than their teammates did. They are also younger and have not been part of as many failed Stanley Cup runs.
Antti Niemi was in net the last time the Sharks had a three-game tailspin, and was for the first two losses in this one. However, Alex Stalock got his first Stanley Cup playoff start Monday.
Win or lose in the deciding game in San Jose Wednesday, the Pacific Division semifinals series against Los Angeles will have taken too much of a toll to survive the difficult Western Conference road ahead. Either team will be lucky to survive one more round let alone three.
Both teams have only themselves to blame. Anyone that thinks the Kings showed up ready for the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs is kidding themselves. Thinking the Sharks are that much better is as errant as thinking what we have seen in the last two games shows they are that much worse.
It has indeed been a tale of two series. Those extra games yielded could cost them as early as this weekend.
The Anaheim Ducks had a road comeback victory over the Dallas Stars to take that series Sunday. They will be rested and have home-ice advantage over whichever team limps away from this series that has featured over 500 hits and nearly 300 penalty minutes.
Both San Jose and Los Angeles are better, no matter what the records say. Both are healthier than they were in the regular season, while Anaheim's blue-line injuries persist. Both coaching staffs have more credentials than the 2013-14 Pacific Division champions do on theirs.
The question is, will that be more important than rest and home-ice advantage? Even if it is, does another tough series make beating another nemesis in the Chicago Blackhawks (okay, that is not official yet but sure looks predestined) in the Western Conference finals? How about the Boston Bruins (or whoever) after that?
For the Sharks, this game displayed that their bigger problem is an inability to close. The simple fact is this team plays loose but also gets complacent in leads, both in games and series. They have been this way through two coaches.
They were an elite first-period team and a mediocre third-period team during the 2013-14 NHL season. Some of this was due to the opposition playing from behind, but the lack of urgency in their game was often evident. It happened in the the series-opener, when San Jose gave up three third-period goals to let Los Angeles back in the game.
In this case, there was no 5-0 cushion to lose. The game went from tight to over in the span of 166 seconds. Then came all the fighting again, with scraps of note including non-fighter Logan Couture tossing the gloves with Mike Richards (not exactly a fighter himself) and Jonathan Quick going after Thornton.
This is merely the frustration of bitter Pacific Division rivals in a dogfight because neither took care of business earlier in the series. The Sharks are also bitter about the second goal they think should have been disallowed, but Todd McLellan's reaction reported by CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz will not help his team be accountable enough to change the way they close:
“We got cheated. Simple as that. I was told you could see the puck laying behind [Stalock’s] feet the whole time, and that’s why the whistle didn’t go. But it was pretty clear if you look at it afterward.”
The call he is referring to was the game-winning goal. After getting the puck from Anze Kopitar, Robyn Regehr fired it on net. Stalock did not know where it was while it trickled to his back skate. The official could not have seen it but did not immediately blow the whistle. Perhaps it survived review because the camera could pick it up.
Either way, one goal does not cost a team a 4-1 loss. San Jose better worry about how it is going to score against Quick, who seems to have regained his Conn Smythe form after a shaky start to the Pacific Division semifinal series. Scoring only one goal against him in 120 minutes of hockey is not going to get it done.
Of course, neither is giving up three goals in every game as San Jose has. Stalock looked good early, but had no chance on the first goal about five minutes in: Drew Doughty got the puck from Jake Muzzin and came deep into the zone, throwing a centering feed across that Justin Williams redirected in.
The Sharks could not get one past Quick through three second-period power plays that included 97 seconds with a two-man advantage. However, the momentum gained did little for the Kings when Raffi Torres dug a puck out of the corner back to the point. Justin Braun slapped it toward the net and James Sheppard deflected it in to tie the score.
It was not until the final eight minutes that the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings took control. After the controversial goal, Anze Kopitar scored off two rebounds that gave Williams, Dwight King, Doughty and Alec Martinez assists.
For the game, the Sharks won the possession battles (10 more faceoffs and four fewer turnovers) and had four more shot attempts. Yet the Kings had four more shots on goal thanks in part to three more blocks and also had five more hits.
Predictably, Los Angeles swept the Examiner.com stars of this Pacific Division semifinal game...