When Patrick Marleau scored a fluky overtime goal to give the San Jose Sharks a 3-0 series lead, the Los Angeles Kings easily could have moped around and started looking ahead to the offseason.
They ended up putting themselves in the hockey history books instead.
Anze Kopitar scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period and Jonathan Quick made 39 saves to cap the Kings' historic comeback from three games down for a 5-1 victory over the Sharks in Game 7 of their first-round series Wednesday night.
"Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and taking it that way we were just more determined to get that back," said star defenseman Drew Doughty, who tied Game 7 early in the second. "We knew that eventually that some luck would start turning our way and it did."
A lot more than luck went Los Angeles' way as they completely took over the series, outscoring San Jose 16-3 over the final 3½ games to join Toronto (1942), the New York Islanders (1975) and Philadelphia (2010) as the only NHL teams to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.
"Fortunately, for us, we had our game going in time that it wasn't too late," forward Justin Williams said. "Four in row. We'll make a note not to do that again."
The Kings now advance to another California showdown in the second-round with the first Freeway Playoff against the Anaheim Ducks beginning Saturday night.
"This is something we're all going to remember for the rest of our lives," Doughty said. "We're not done yet. We have to move on. We're probably going to start in a few days now. This will be in our heads tonight. That was an unbelievable feeling."
Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Dustin Brown also scored for the Kings, who silenced the normally frenzied crowd at the Shark Tank with a dominating third period.
But the series started to turn much earlier. The Kings lost the first two games, getting outscored 13-5 as Quick looked pedestrian.
They played a strong Game 3 before losing on Marleau's deflected goal in overtime and then took the series over midway through Game 4 as they finally eliminated the odd-man chances that fueled San Jose's attack early, got stellar play from Quick to shut down the Sharks' power play and got big performances from stalwarts Kopitar, Doughty and Williams, as well as rookies like Toffoli and Pearson.
"When you've gone to the top of the mountain with the same group of guys it's a little bit easier when you're at the bottom to come up," Brown said. "That's what a lot of this team is about, our guys who have stuck together and played together for years."
Matt Irwin scored the lone goal and Antti Niemi made 25 saves for the Sharks, who added perhaps their most bitter playoff disappointment to a history of them. San Jose has the second most regular-season wins in the NHL the past 10 seasons but has never made it past the conference finals.
"This is as low as it's been for me, and for the players that have been together for the six years that I've been here," coach Todd McLellan said.
The way the Sharks started this series, it looked as if this would finally be their year.
But Joe Thornton, Marleau and the rest of San Jose's stars went mostly missing the final four games, the power play could not convert on its final 15 chances and the defense had too many lapses, leading to the Sharks' second straight Game 7 loss to their California rivals.
"There's been a lot of low points, but yeah, this is definitely one of them being up 3-0," Marleau said.
The Sharks took their first lead since Game 3 in the opening minute of the second when Irwin's point shot beat Quick through a screen to energize a crowd that only got louder when San Jose drew a penalty less than a minute later.
But a hooking call on Tommy Wingels negated that power play and Logan Couture then got called for an elbowing penalty, giving Los Angeles a two-man advantage for 6 seconds. Before Wingels could get back into the play, Doughty tied it when he beat Niemi from the faceoff circle.
The Sharks had three more power plays in the second period to give them a chance to go back ahead, but Los Angeles killed every one of them with Quick robbing Marleau with a glove save on the goal line to thwart San Jose's best chance.
"Those were obviously critical," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Jonathan was able to make that one highlight save. I think that gave us a little momentum."
That save was emblematic of a remarkable turnaround for Quick, who allowed 16 goals the first three games before holding the Sharks to just five over the final four wins.
The Kings responded after the fourth penalty kill when Williams found Kopitar, who made a nifty move to beat Niemi with a backhand to give him points in all seven games this series.
Toffoli's goal in the opening minutes of the third period off a pretty no-look feed from Pearson gave the Kings insurance and they tightened things up the rest of the way to seal the win.
Brown and Pearson added empty-netters late.