SAN JOSE -- On a night that demanded self-loathing on an almost galactic scale, the San Jose Sharks accepted their fate with a greater willingness than any would have thought.
On the ice, that was absolutely true. In losing Game 7 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series to the Los Angeles Kings, 5-1, they became the fourth team in NHL history to take a 3-0 lead in games and lose the series. Their collapse was indeed the most monumental of them all, as they were outscored 18-5 in the final four games -- and those scores were generous assessments of the real imbalance between the two teams. They deserved to own this disaster, and they will deserve the fallout that is to come.
But it was the postgame self-assessment where they excelled, in fact the only time all night they excelled – in abject self-flagellation. They were devastated, ashamed, angry, humiliated, and painfully self-aware of just how revolting this collapse was. And they deserved every insult they could hurl down upon themselves. They know what their reputation as playoff lightweights are, and now they have no way to respond other than with the killing phrase, “You’re right.”
“Every loss is pretty bad,” said Logan Couture, one of the many missing core performers in the final four games, “but this one is different. I’m supposed to be one of the players we count on, and I didn’t perform the way I wanted to. This one hurts a lot more. I’ll spend every day of the summer thinking about this one.”
“There have been lots of lows, but this was definitely one of the worst,” said Patrick Marleau, the team’s longest-serving player and someone for whom self-examination has never been a public thing. “What other people say . . . well, I don’t usually agree with it, but when you do something like this, well, it’s not easy to take.”
And head coach Todd McLellan was even more pointed than that as he poked angrily at the cold ashes of the worst good season this team has ever had.
“There have been a lot of good moments in this franchise,” he said with disgust commingled with anger in his mouth, “but this is as low as it’s been for me. That’s an easy one to answer.
“The difference is this. They (the Kings) fixed their problems, and ours got progressively worse. We were awful off the rush, and as much as we worked on it, we didn’t get any better at it.
“(Another) problem we ran into was getting them to understand that those 6-3, 7-2 games (at the beginning of the series) weren’t going to keep coming. They’re too good a team for that. This isn’t like last year (when the Sharks also lost to the Kings in seven games). That series was a lot closer than this one was. They were the better team. That was quite evident.”
The details of Game 7 were not all that compelling. They did nothing with four second-period power plays. They gave up a late second period goal to Anze Kopitar and an early third-period score to Tyler Toffoli. Their mild gamble on Antti Niemi in goal did not hurt them, because the failures were comprehensive and across the board.
They were just as McLellan said – awful.
So how do they rise from this? Better yet, DO they rise from this? The 1943 Red Wings won the Stanley Cup after the 1942 version lost to Toronto. The 1975 Penguins who lost to the New York Islanders won two playoff series in the next 16 years before discovering Mario Lemieux. The 2011 Bruins won the Cup the year after heimliching their 2010 series with Philadelphia.
But this team is nowhere near Boston’s. The central core of this team went missing with the kill shot ready to be applied. The goaltending was wobbly, and the defense was wobblier once Marc-Edouard Vlasic got hurt. And though this was not a failure of coaching – the players have to eat all four courses of this – one has to wonder about McLellan’s future.
Only for a minute, anyway. General manager Doug Wilson would be foolish to even consider exchanging McLellan for anyone, and McLellan would be in Toronto or Vancouver within days filling either of those two high-profile vacancies.
And Wilson? He is probably safe as well, but if owner Hasso Plattner is as engaged as he should be enraged, substantive changes will be “suggested.” And maybe it’s about time. This team has stood essentially pat for years, and has become notorious for big resumes and small results.
And with this massive system failure, there is no good reason to expect that the fan base will be even remotely as tolerant as it has been in the past, nor should it be. Enough is enough, and in this case, way too little is way too much. San Jose’s continental reputation as a team with a miserable springtime resume is now set in granite, and claiming the Sharks are just a tweak away won’t stand any longer. This is who they are, and this is who they shall remain until they decide to prove otherwise.