LOS ANGELES -- In a span of less than three minutes, two Los Angeles Kings goals ended the dream that this might be the Sharks' year after all.
San Jose lost 2-1 in the deciding Game 7 of its Stanley Cup playoff series Tuesday night with Kings right wing Justin Williams doing all the damage on two second-period shots.
"It's heartbreaking," said Logan Couture, who tweeted an apology for not getting "the job done" to Sharks fans shortly after leaving the ice. "We battled hard to get where we were. We made some changes and played a good first round, then forced, I think, the best team in the league to seven games and almost beat them in their building. It's tough to take."
The Sharks cut the gap in half when Dan Boyle scored at 5:26 of the third period.
But in the end, it was Kings netminder Jonathan Quick and missed opportunities -- the two biggest by Couture early in the second period and Joe Pavelski late in the third -- that ended an improbable run by a team that reinvented itself in late March.
The teams were so evenly matched that Kings coach Darryl Sutter's response when asked how good the Sharks were, responded: "As good as us."
And Sharks coach Todd McLellan, too, said there was little distinction between the teams over the seven games in which the Sharks were outscored 14-10, or 2 to 1.4 per game.
"In the end, we probably made one more mistake than they did," McLellan said. "And, we couldn't find a way to get another puck by Quick."
San Jose entered its series against the defending Stanley Cup champions on a roll, having swept the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. But as it turned out, each team won every game on home ice, and the Kings had one more of those.
The Sharks knew they had to improve on their performance the last time they were inside Staples Center, when the Kings skated away with a 3-0 victory in Game 5.
And by that standard, San Jose had to be satisfied with a scoreless first period.
The second period, however, was all frustration for the Sharks.
A little more than a minute in, Quick got a glove on a backhand shot from just outside the crease by Couture after a nice setup from Pavelski.
"I have to score there. I'm counted on to score goals," Couture said. "If I get a chance like that I have to score."
Things got worse in a hurry. With Brent Burns in the penalty box for interference, Kings defenseman Slava Voynov broke his stick on a shot that caromed off the backboards to Williams, who punched it in before goalie Antti Niemi could seal off the post at 4:11.
"When you break a stick, the timing of that shot fools everybody, including the goaltender," McLellan said. "That was a tough one."
The Sharks almost got that back when Couture deflected a shot by defenseman Matt Irwin, but the puck trickled wide. Seconds later, Williams fired a 24-foot wrist shot that beat Niemi at 7:08 -- and gave Williams his fifth goal in four Game 7s over a 12-year NHL career.
"We overextended a shift, and they took advantage of it," McLellan said.
Still, San Jose skated hard in the third period, challenging Quick with 14 of the 26 shots the Sharks put on net all game. And the Sharks got on the board on a 58-foot slap shot by Boyle.
San Jose came close to tying the score with 5:04 left, but Pavelski had trouble settling a rebound and couldn't lift the puck over the glove of Quick, who was sprawled on the ice.
"I thought I had to jam it in right away when I had to regroup it. I thought I was getting more pressure than what I was," Pavelski said. "It's one you've got to have right at the very end."
That only compounded the letdown he and his teammates felt.
"We never felt overwhelmed against this team," Pavelski said. "It's just disappointing."
The Sharks lament their missed chances in a close playoff series with the Kings, columnist Mark Purdy writes
Logan Couture had been playing with a sprained ankle since Game 3. PAGE 5
The Sharks found no fault with Antti Niemi's play in goal. PAGE 5