LOS ANGELES — It was a handshake line the San Jose Sharks have dreamed of for 24 months.
The one where you look the Los Angeles Kings players in their eyes, with respect, of course — but also with that knowing look and a satisfying smile.
Got you back, boys.
“It felt really good, the end of the game and that buzzer, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a while,” said Sharks center Logan Couture. “We needed to win that series for our fans. It was nice to win, especially with things that were said by players on their team about us and our leadership and stuff like that. It was nice to beat them.”
It was Couture’s good buddy, Drew Doughty of the Kings, who famously opined two years ago that as Los Angeles was in the midst of rallying from 3-0 down to San Jose in their playoff series in 2014, he could “see it in their eyes and their team and their captains and leaders that they were worried about us coming back” in referring to the Sharks.
It was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a character assassination of San Jose’s core guys.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me,” insisted Sharks center Joe Thornton after Friday night’s clinching 6-3 win. “It’s just the way I am. I’m just worried about the now. But it felt good shaking everyone’s hand tonight, I’ll tell you that much.”
Do you think?
San Jose ended a string of 19 consecutive playoff games against the Kings with a win that spelled redemption.
No better way to answer that 2014 collapse than with a tidy, five-game series win.
Oddly enough, it was Kings winger Milan Lucic who proved prophetic when he talked before this series about knowing full well how it felt to be on that Boston Bruins team in 2010 that gave up a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia, only to use that as incredible motivation the very next year to crush the Flyers in a four-game sweep.
“We didn’t just beat them, we smoked them,” Lucic said April 13 on the eve of Game 1.
His point was that his team could not underestimate how badly the Sharks would want to win this series.
“They were ready for us with their game plan and everything,” Lucic said after Game 5 Friday night. “If you look at it as a whole, they were more committed to doing the little things than we were to win the series. It unfortunately wasn’t there for us. A lot of guys didn’t play their best, including myself, when we needed to the most. “
And that was simplistically true. The top players on San Jose outplayed the top players on the Kings.
“This series we didn’t play good enough, and the bottom line is that it showed on the scoreboard, and we didn’t deserve to win the series,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar, who was outplayed by his counterpart Thornton in this series.
Oh, but the Sharks being the Sharks, they sure made it interesting, jumping out to a 3-0 lead, then watching as the battled-tested Kings came right back to tie the game 3-3 before the end of the second period. The Staples Center was rocking, and the thought of another series comeback against the Sharks was very much dancing in the minds of Kings fans.
At that very moment, the narrative on social media was “same old Sharks.” And “here come the Kings again.”
Except that’s not what happened at all.
Rookie Joonas Donskoi gave the Sharks the lead 3:58 into the third period, and they took off from there, with the incredible Joe Pavelski getting the insurance marker — his fifth goal of the series — and an empty-netter completing the 6-3 win.
These are your new Sharks. The resilient ones.
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer spoke to his team between the second and third periods. His message? If he had told them back in September that they’d be entering the third period tied 3-3 in Game 5 with the Kings and a chance to win the series, would they have taken it? “And we would have,” said Thornton.
And so those playoff demons of years past did not materialize in this third period. The boogeyman wearing a Kings sweater was slayed.
“They got us, and now we got them; it’s a good feeling,” said Thornton.
The San Jose captain, Pavelski, also underlined a very important fact: This is just the beginning.
“It’s Step 1 for us,” said Pavelski. “We realize this isn’t going to win us anything. It’s going to get us closer; we’ll be able to take a few things from it. The biggest message out of this is that it feels good, we’ll enjoy it, we’ll get some rest — and we got to keep going.”