2013 NHL Playoffs: San Jose Sharks can't overcome choker label in heartbreaking loss

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks choked away another chance in the playoffs. So...what else is new?

At this point, it's just a self-fulfilling prophesy that has descended into the depths of a bad joke retold at each holiday gathering.

"Hey, remember that time when the San Jose Sharks choked?"

"Which time was that?"

Uproarious laughter ensues.

Add Thursday's heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, in which the Sharks allowed two power play goals in the final two minutes of the game, to the list of moments where San Jose choked away a golden opportunity.

Perhaps all of the pointing and laughing is just jealousy and basic schadenfreude at work.

The San Jose Sharks are an incredibly successful hockey franchise and arguably a top five franchise in the NHL the past decade. The Sharks have not missed the postseason since before the last lockout and have secured six divisional titles since 2002, as well as appearing in three Western Conference Finals in that span.

There are many teams around the NHL that would kill to trade their history for that of the Sharks, that would love to be a perennially successful playoff team that has made it out of the first round in six out of the last eight years while putting together some of the stronger teams the Western Conference has to offer.

Yet success is always judged on a relative scale. While the Florida Panthers may look across the continent at San Jose in jealousy, the Sharks franchise and their fans have a completely different set of expectations to meet. While the Panthers may look to a rebuild because they struggle to actually make the playoffs, the Sharks are constantly looking at the possibility of a rebuild in each successive season in which the Stanley Cup is not obtained.

There's been a lot of talk the past two seasons about the "window closing" for the Sharks and their current run of success, as Joe Thornton and company get on in the years and the core of the team gets older and crustier. There's been some shots of youth and skill on the team, most notably Logan Couture, yet with the same essential group of players the Sharks continue to fall short in their battle for the ultimate goal in hockey.

Last season the Sharks were handily dismissed by the St. Louis Blues in the first round and there was talk of blowing the team up, or possibly firing head coach Todd McLellan. Other than signing Adam Burish to a four-year contract and losing a number of role players to free agency, not many changes were actually made in the offseason and the Sharks entered the truncated 2013 season with essentially the same team -- perhaps that first round loss was just a fluke?

The Sharks did make some significant changes at the trade deadline, parting ways with Douglas Murray, Michal Handzus and Ryane Clow while acquiring future assets, then picking up Raffi Torres and Scott Hannan as the dynamic on the roster was tweaked a bit. The results weren't exactly encouraging, as the Sharks went just 6-5-1 after the deadline and lost the final two games of the season before facing Vancouver.

A four-game sweep of a hapless Canucks team obviously solved everything, right?

To be fair, the Sharks have mostly outplayed the Kings in the first two games of the series. The Sharks were shutout in Game 1 by an absurdly strong performance by goaltender Jonathan Quick and then dominated Game 2 on Thursday. After going down 2-0 early in the game the Sharks controlled every aspect of play, winning 68 percent of the faceoffs and scoring three goals to eventually take the lead in the third period.

Yet hockey is a 60 minute sport and no one understands this better than the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have tasted success; this is a team that understands exactly what it takes to win when the pressure is at its highest and that came through on Thursday.

The Dustin Brown power play goal to tie the game with 1:43 remaining left the Sharks reeling and it showed the moment the puck dropped. Trevor Lewis' goal just 22 seconds later came on a rush with Brad Stuart, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle aimlessly skating back to their net and then left staring at each other in disbelief and disgrace.

If Brown's goal was a back-breaker, then Lewis' goal was a soul-destroying blow. Can the Sharks rebound from a 2-0 deficit, especially after losing in such a fashion in a game in which they actually played very well? More importantly, are the Los Angeles Kings right back to being the unstoppable force from the 2012 postseason and do the Sharks have any chance at all in slowing them down?

The Sharks lost another postseason game in heartbreaking fashion (remember Boyle scoring on his own goal in overtime?) and once again will be facing questions of team construction and coaching if this series is lost. Sweeping change has been talked about for two years now and it's possible that 1:43 of game play at the end of a singular game could become the straw that breaks that metaphorical camel's back.

The Sharks claim they won't give up, however.

"I liked our game," McLellan said after the game. "We'll meet at the rink and I'll tell our team that. The thing I like about our team -- maybe in the past this would have bothered our team more, but with the group of guys we have I think we can recover from this. I think we can get out and play hard again."

Game 3 is set for Saturday, May 18 with the puck dropping at 9 p.m. ET.

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