Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks blew it. They had a 3-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings and lost the next four games. Joe Thornton might someday lose his reputation for being a playoff choker, but it will not be this year. Sharks fans should remember that it wasn’t very long ago that Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask were considered chokers, culminating with a collapse just as devastating at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, but they came back the next season, and won three Game 7s on their way to a Stanley Cup, and the one series of theirs that did not go seven games was a sweep of the Flyers team that had beaten them the year before. That’s a discussion for this summer, but in the meantime, credit needs to be given to the LA Comeback Kings.
There is a common denominator between the Bruins’ collapse, and the Sharks’ collapse: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Those two guys were playing for the Flyers in 2010, and play for the Kings now. They have had their backs against the wall like that twice now, and ended up pulling the series out. Maybe Flyers GM expected them to do it again in 2011 because after the Bruins completed the sweep on Philly that year, Richards got traded to Los Angeles and Carter got traded to Columbus (only to get traded to LA at the 2012 trade deadline) that summer. In LA, they became Stanley Cup champions, helping the Kings roll over the competition despite being the #8 seed in the Western Conference. Philly still hasn’t been back to the Finals since losing to Chicago in 2010, but they could have used Richards and Carter this year when they lost to the New York Rangers in seven games.
The other major factor in the Kings’ comeback was goaltender and UMass alum Jonathan Quick. Quick was nails for the Kings in the last for games of that series, and shut down one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. That’s what he does. In the Olympics, Quick was the guy who kept the United States in games they should have lost, or should have lost by a lot more. If Brian Burke had the humility to put Bobby Ryan on the American roster, Quick might have a 2014 medal to go with the Silver he earned as a backup in 2010, his Stanley Cup ring, and his Conn Smythe Trophy. If he keeps playing like that, he’ll have plenty more awards to add to his collection over the next few years.
The Kings will have their hands full with their other California rival, the Anaheim Ducks, in the second round. The battle for southern California should be some more great hockey for a region that has really started getting into hockey over the last 20 years. As much as must hurt to be a Sharks fan right now (and I know from experience thanks to the Bruins) it’s that thrilling to be a Kings fan right now (and I know from experience thanks to the Red Sox). Round two of the playoffs is already up to a strong start with the double OT game between the Bruins and Habs (it hurts that the Habs won, but I feel better about the Bruins after that game than I did after Game 1 of the Detroit series), and all of these series have a chance to become classics.