Fittingly, almost poetically, it all came down to one final power play.
For most of the season, a lack of power-play success had prevented the Kings from turning ``good’’ into ``great.’’ For all their accomplishments in 5-on-5 and penalty-kill situations, the power play remained a nasty weed in a fairly lush garden.
The Kings could have put all of that behind them Monday night. Given a golden opportunity, they could have scored the biggest power-play goal of the season. They did not.
Handed a five-minute power play late in the third period of a tie game, the Kings failed to score. Less than one minute after it ended, San Jose’s Joe Thornton found the back of the net and ended the Kings’ season. Thornton’s goal, 2:22 into overtime, gave the Sharks a 4-3 victory in Game 6 before a sellout of 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
``It was a great opportunity for us,’’ Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the five-minute power play. ``We should have scored. We didn’t, and our season is over. Myself, being the power play, I’m pretty disappointed that we didn’t score there.’’
The Sharks won the series 4-2 and advanced to face either Detroit or Chicago in the second round. The Kings’ season ended exactly the way it did 12 months earlier, with a Game 6 loss on home ice in the first round. This one, perhaps, was even tougher to accept.
The Kings went through an up-and-down season. It started with a remarkable 12-3 run and ended with a devastating injury to Anze Kopitar, one that, truth be told, the Kings never really recovered from, despite their gritty play in this series. Kopitar’s absence, at both ends of the ice, was dearly missed throughout the series.
Still, the Kings expected more from themselves, and easily could have won the series. They lost Games 1, 3 and 6 in overtime and lost all three home games. The Game 3 loss, in which the Kings led 4-0 in the second period, was particularly harmful. Moreover, too often they got away from the structure that had often led them to success.
``Regardless of what everyone else thought about this team going into the playoffs, we believed in this (locker) room that we could do something good,’’ Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``Any time a season is ending and you’re not the winning team, it’s a disappointment, but for every guy in here, I don’t think anything other than that everybody was giving their best shot. Playoff series are tough. They were the better team for stretches than we were and they found a way to come out on top. That’s just how it goes.’’
In a highly intense Game 6, the Kings rallied from deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, and tied the game for a third time with less than nine minutes remaining in the third period on Trevor Lewis’ power-play goal. Ultimately, the power play would let the Kings down.
The Kings finished 21st in the NHL in power-play efficiency this season, down from seventh the season before. The dip, while never fully explained, was persistent, and the lack of power-play success regularly made the difference in tight games.
All that could have been forgotten though, in the aftermath of Jamie McGinn’s hit on Brad Richardson. With 3:23 remaining in regulation, McGinn inexplicably strode toward Richardson and smashed him into the boards, which earned the Sharks’ fourth-line winger a five-minute penalty for charging and a game misconduct.
With the home fans roaring, the Kings likely would have put away the Sharks and forced a Game 7 with one goal, but it was not to be, despite a close call.
The Kings thought they had scored with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation. With Sharks goalie Antti Niemi prone on the ice, the Kings crashed the net and swatted at the puck. At one point, a couple Kings raised their arms in celebration, only to stare at the crease area and discover that the puck had vanished in the mass of humanity and had not crossed the goal line.
``I got a whack at the puck, and I didn’t really know where it went because I couldn’t see, but I thought it went in,’’ Doughty said. ``I think I started to celebrate, and unfortunately it didn’t go in. … I couldn’t see the puck. I just took a whack at it and hoped for the best, that kind of thing, and it didn’t go in. I wish it had.
The Kings had 1:37 of power-play time to start overtime, but barely got the puck near the front of the Sharks’ net. Less than a minute later, Devin Setoguchi swooped behind the Kings’ net with the puck and Thornton knocked a backhand shot into the Kings’ net.
Thornton dove to the ice and slid in celebration, as the Kings’ season ended suddenly.
``The San Jose Sharks, that might have been the best game they played all season,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``Granted, I haven’t seen them every game. But just their pace, their attitude, their intensity, the `let’s get after it, we don’t want to go into a Game 7,’ they played a real intense tempo game to start the game off. We responded. Quick was good. We killed off a power play and we were real big on the penalty killing again. We got things settled out and we came back and we played better in the second and better in the third and we end up getting to an overtime.’’
It was another solid outing for Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who made 31 saves, but the Kings were never completely able to recover from the Sharks’ brilliant start.
Less than 10 minutes into the first period, the Sharks had outshot the Kings 11-1 and Murray, tired of seeing his team dominated by the Sharks, called a timeout.
The Kings improved from there. They tied the game 1-1 on Justin Williams’ second-period power-play goal, 2-2 on Ryan Smyth’s goal 18 seconds into the third period and 3-3 on Trevor Lewis’ power-play goal with 8:21 remaining in regulation.
In the series, the Kings scored five power-play goals to the Sharks’ two, an unexpected turn of events given the Sharks’ strong regular-season power play, but it wasn’t enough.
After the Sharks failed to score on a power play early in the second period, they took the lead with an even-strength goal at the 2:58 mark. Quick scrambled after breaking his stick and the Sharks applied pressure. Thornton centered to Kyle Wellwood, who roofed a shot past Quick and two Kings defenders to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
With Thornton in penalty box on a double-minor high-sticking call, the Kings tied the game with a power-play goal. Jack Johnson shot from the left side and Niemi made the save but the rebound kicked right. Williams skated in and one-timed the rebound into the net from the right circle to tie the game 1-1 with 6:33 remaining in the second period. Lewis also picked up an assist.
The Sharks got the lead back with 3:08 remaining in the second period. Joe Pavelski won the puck in the corner of the Kings' zone, then found Jason Demers, who pinched down into the play. The Kings lost coverage on Demers, who beat Quick with a sharp wrist shot to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.
The Kings tied the game 18 seconds into the third period. Smyth dropped a pass for Jarret Stoll, who shot from the right point. Niemi made the save, but Smyth crashed the net and knocked the rebound in from close range to tie the game 2-2.
Heatley's goal, 8:48 into the third period, gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead. The Sharks tried to work the puck into the Kings' zone, and Kings center Brad Richardson tried to clear it, but Richardson was knocked off the puck. Dany Heatley picked it up, skated to the left circle and beat Quick with a high, sharp wrist shot.
The Kings tied the game 3-3 with 8:21 remaining in the third period with their second power-play goal of the game. Alec Martinez got the play started when he carried the puck deep into the Sharks' zone. The puck went back up to Stoll, who shot from the left point through traffic. Lewis then skated into the play and knocked the rebound past Niemi.
After the Kings failed to score on their five-minute power play, the Sharks ended the game less than a minute later. On a counter-attack, Setoguchi took the puck behind the Kings' net and tried to get it to the net. The puck got deflected in front, and Thornton won the battle in front of Quick and tucked a backhand shot into the net to end the game 2:22 into overtime.
``We had opportunities in this series,’’ Brown said. ``We had a 4-0 lead at home in Game 3 and two other OT games and were right there. Like I said, the difference between winning and losing is that small. They found ways to get goals in OT and we didn’t. Right now that’s the difference.’’
1 - 0 SJS
1 - 1 Tie