LOS ANGELES -- Now we find out about these San Jose Sharks.
We find out about their character and resiliency.
Because for many a team, having two goals scored 22 seconds apart in the final two minutes of a playoff game that seemed readily in hand can be absolutely crushing.
Instead of a road split in the opening two games, it’s an 0-2 series hole.
“The thing I like about our team, maybe in the past this would have probably bothered our team a little bit more,” Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said after a stunning 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. “But with the group of guys we have, we can recover from this.”
It was oh so close to a tremendous victory for the Sharks, Marc-Edouard Vlasic giving the visitors a 3-2 lead 8:56 into the third period to cap a three-goal comeback for his team.
But then came a tripping call on Brad Stuart at 17:19, followed by a controversial delay of game penalty to Vlasic at 17:41 for shooting the puck over the glass -- putting the Sharks two men down.
Dustin Brown scored on a rebound during the 5-on-3 power play to tie the game, and just 22 seconds later Trevor Lewis jumped on a rebound and slid the puck into an open side on the 5-on-4 man advantage.
The Staples Center was rocking. The Sharks were stunned.
After the buzzer, they were mainly angry because they felt replays showed Vlasic’s clearing attempt touched Kings forward Jeff Carter on the way out.
When a reporter suggested the puck seemed to touch Carter, Vlasic responded: “Well there you go. He saw that, then everybody saw that,” said Vlasic, pointing to the reporter.
“What’s done is done,” added Vlasic. “It’s unfortunate. We move on to the next game.”
It’s no small call. Going down 5-on-3 that late is a game-changer.
“You go back and look at it, it looks like it changed direction,” McLellan said of the Vlasic penalty. “One thing I learned certainly throughout these playoffs, it’s not going to do me any good to get up here and whine and moan and [complain] about the refereeing. Because it’s not going to get us anywhere. We took some penalties and we needed to kill them. And we move on.”
Sharks center Logan Couture could not contain his anger.
“I don’t know man, I got the puck in the corner with three minutes left and (Slava) Voynov slashed me on the wrist at least six times. No call. They say it’s too tight to make the call. Then they call a tripping (on Stuart). It’s tough," Couture said.
Down the hall in the home dressing room, the Kings know they stole one.
But when you’re a championship team, you find ways to win games you shouldn’t have, not lose games you should have won.
“Well, we realized it wasn’t our best effort, but sometimes good teams win games when they don’t deserve it, too,” Kings star Anze Kopitar said. “We pulled it out of our behinds this time. Next time, we want to make sure we’re not in a position like this.”
Kopitar gave Kings fans a scare when he left the game for some time early in the third period after taking a shot from linemate Brown in the face.
With Jarret Stoll out for a while with a concussion, the Kings could obviously ill-afford to lose another center.
But with Rocky music blaring on the Staples Center sound system, Kopitar made his return, and he certainly enjoyed the ending despite the freshly sewn stitches in his upper lip.
“It helps take the sting away,” Kopitar said. “We hadn’t scored a power-play goal in the playoffs at home yet, and to do it twice in the last two minutes is huge."
Lewis jumped into the glass after his game winner, an exhilarating moment in the checker’s career.
“I think I almost passed out on the celebration, I got a little light-headed,” Lewis said. “But … to score a big goal in the playoffs is what you dream about.”
A dream-like ending for one team, a nightmare for the other.
But the Sharks have to focus now on the fact they did a lot of good things on this night.
For starters, they scored three goals on Jonathan Quick, which is only the second time in these playoffs that’s happened.
“I liked our game,” McLellan said. “We’ll meet tomorrow at the rink and I’ll tell our team that. …
“It was a hell of an effort tonight from our group."
For 58-plus minutes, the Sharks were the better team. They were outshooting and out-chancing the Kings, and seemed to have the puck most of the night.
“We played well enough to win,” Couture said. “We got the lead. We were all over them the majority of the game. [But they got] the penalties at the end … and they score two goals.”
But I repeat my original question: How do they respond to this soul-shattering loss?
“We’ll respond,” Vlasic said. “I thought we responded well tonight, we played 60 minutes. We should have won that game. We finally got pucks to the net and got in front of him. It’s just tough. But our group will be ready.”