SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Fireworks shot into the sky like a confetti cannon at a funeral.
The San Jose Sharks stood on the ice, having just been thwarted again by their arch rivals, wondering if they should shake the hands of the Los Angeles Kings or waddle back to the dressing room to contemplate the two vital points they lost in the standings, in front of 70,205 fans at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s the truth when they say ‘it’s better when you win’ because this sucks right now,” said forward Joe Pavelski.
The teams left their Stadium Series game without a handshake line, but the Sharks stick-saluted their faithful before everyone headed to the exits. They all take away memories from the first outdoor game appearance in San Jose’s history, but the Sharks also take away the bitter taste of a 2-1 loss, putting them on the outside of the playoff bubble for the moment -- 68 points, trailing the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks and Kings.
“It was a hard-fought game by two good teams that played a pretty even match. So the outcome is very disappointing, but everything else we're proud of,” said coach Todd McLellan.
“Every game is really, really important. But if you think I'm locking in when our next practice arrives and say, ‘Hey, we're out of the playoffs’ … they're smart guys, these were very important points. But there are 42 of them left on the table. We'll have to go out and earn more than we lose, if we do that, we'll take care of ourselves.”
The Sharks outplayed the Kings in the second period, before relapsing back to the mistakes from early in the game during the third period.
“I thought the second period was our best period by far. We kept it simple. Third period, we got away from that. Got sloppy in the neutral zone, and it led to their game-winning goal,” said forward Logan Couture, on the long Marian Gaborik shot that beat Antti Niemi off a Brent Burns turnover.
Did Niemi lose the puck? He said playing in the stadium had its challenges. “It was a little different. Especially the high ones, felt different. The lighting. The background,” said Niemi.
But the Stadium Series experience, overall, had its challenges. Different ice. Different atmosphere. Different distractions. “I'd be lying if I said there were a couple of times where guys were slow jumping on the ice because maybe their eyes were wandering. Maybe their minds were wandering,” said McLellan.
“But that's human.”
Also human: Hope.
“One game isn’t going to make or break anything. But if we win this one, we build on that Dallas game, it could have pushed us a little more in the right direction,” said Pavelski. “We had chances tonight. More than enough opportunities to score a goal. We just have to get it done.”
Which is to say that panic hasn’t set in.
When does it set in?
“When there’s zero games left and we don’t make the playoffs,” said Couture.
“I believe we’re going to fight until the very end of the season. We’re going to give it our all. And if we don’t, shame on us.”
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