LOS ANGELES -- The bowed heads and stunned faces in the Los Angeles Kings' locker room all repeated the same line, one by one, again and again, like robots in an assembly line.
“It’s just one game,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
“It’s only one game,” Kings defenseman Matt Greene added.
“It’s one game, that’s all it is, one game,” Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick said.
If only Kings coach Terry Murray had gotten the same consistent performance from his players in the second period of the Kings’ 6-5 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks, maybe, just maybe, they would have found a way to hold on to their 4-0 second-period lead.
Instead, the Kings choked away their seemingly insurmountable lead and suffered one of the worst playoff losses in franchise history -- and allowed the Sharks to take a 2-1 series lead.
“That’s as bad as it gets in the second period, for sure,” Murray said. “I’m only going to talk about this for a very brief time because you could go a lot of ways with this.”
The only way the Kings are going after the dramatic way they dropped Game 3 of their first-round playoff series is toward another early exit in the postseason.
No one gave the Kings much of a chance heading into the playoffs against the second-seeded Sharks. The Kings were without leading scorer Anze Kopitar and limped into the playoffs after back-to-back listless losses to the Anaheim Ducks, and their offense was virtually nonexistent, scoring on just one of 23 power plays at the end of the season.
Yet there the Kings were, in control of Game 3 after completely dominating Game 2 with a 4-0 win. They had scored eight unanswered goals since the end of their Game 1 overtime loss and seemed destined to send the Sharks on yet another early vacation.
And then things changed.
Maybe the Staples Center scoreboard knew what was about to happen before the sold-out crowd did.
Just before the start of the second period began, it was announced that the arena’s new scoreboard was experiencing technical difficulties and that the time and score would be kept on smaller scoreboards behind the nets.
It seemed like a moot point after the Kings took a 4-0 lead on the Sharks 44 seconds into the second period and chased San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi from the game.
That’s when the game completely flipped. Suddenly a team that had nothing to be overconfident or cocky about a week ago began thinking it could take it easy after stringing together four good periods of hockey.
“We just had some breakdowns,” Greene said. “We took our foot off the gas pedal there. They made us pay, and that’s it.”
Murray didn’t need to hear his players say that after the game. He saw it as the seven-goal second period was unfolding before him.
“It’s about making plays with the puck,” Murray said. “It’s about composure. If you do the right things with the puck, then there’s no letup in any area or letting your foot off the gas pedal or whatever you want to talk about. You have to continue to play the right way, and we stopped playing. We gave them the opportunity. They’re down 4-0, why wouldn’t they play relaxed? They came right at us and they took it to us big time.”
San Jose not only took it to the Kings on the ice and on scoreboard, which finally began working again toward the end of the second period, but on the psychological front, as well. As much as the Kings would like to say this is just another game, it isn’t. It's the kind of loss that sticks with you through the playoffs and in the offseason.
If the Kings had won this game in a similarly dramatic fashion, they would have given it a nickname such as “The Miracle on Manchester” which took place 29 years ago at the Forum when the Kings came back from a 5-0 deficit to beat the vaunted Edmonton Oilers 6-5 in overtime.
Daryl Evans, who scored the winning goal in that playoff game, is the radio color commentator for the Kings now and couldn’t help but have flashbacks as he watched the Sharks come back.
“You always think about it,” Evans said. “I always reflect on it, and tonight we were on the other end of the spectrum. San Jose showed the veteran players they have.”
Coming into the playoffs, many within the Kings' organization harped on the fact they were the youngest team in the playoffs as a way to highlight the bright future of the club. During their collapse in Game 3, however, that youth and inexperience was exploited, and once again showed the rest of the league that the Kings still have some growing up to do before they can be considered contenders.
“I thought we showed a lot of immaturity in the way we played,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “We seemed to have completely forgotten the good things that gave us big games in Game 1 and 2 and the start of Game 3, and that’s something we’ll have to fix.”