Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Even Patrick Marleau, the longtime face of the San Jose Sharks, knew it was tough to argue with his club's many critics this time.
Marleau, the franchise's all-time leader in numerous statistical categories, has survived multiple playoff meltdowns in his 16 seasons in San Jose. He even moved past having the Sharks' captaincy taken away from him in the summer of 2009.
But after San Jose squandered a 3-0 lead against Los Angeles to lose its opening-round series in historic fashion, you get the feeling this could be rock bottom for the 34-year-old forward.
"You don't usually agree with (the critics), but then you do something like this and it's not easy to take, you know?" Marleau said after his team's 5-1 loss in Game 7 Wednesday night.
After outscoring the Kings 17-8 in taking a 3-0 lead, the Sharks scored only five times over the last four games to join the dubious club of teams to lose a series after winning the first three games. The 1942 Detroit Red Wings, the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2010 Boston Bruins have company, and like those previous collapses, there is little the Sharks can say to defend themselves from criticism.
"We obviously don't want to hear that kind of stuff, but what are we going to say?" defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We were on the wrong side of history tonight. It's tough for us to argue with anything that's said. We let ourselves down, we let the fans down, we let everybody in our organization down. It's not a good feeling. There's not really much else you can say about it."
The fallout from this meltdown could have far-reaching implications for the Sharks as well as the rest of the league.
Head coach Todd McLellan has been on the hot seat before, but it seems unlikely he can escape taking the fall for this one. General manager Doug Wilson has a better chance of keeping his job, but it's no guarantee he'll be back.
Both of those guys are considered to be among the best in the world at their jobs (and both will easily find new roles with another franchise), but when a team cannot carry over tremendous regular-season success into the postseason, something has to give.
If Wilson stays, he'll obviously have to make some changes to the roster. Whether those moves come via buyouts, trades or the free agent market, the club owes it to its long-suffering fans to try to alter the chemistry in San Jose in a meaningful way.
It's unlikely guys like Logan Couture or Joe Pavelski, who both recently signed long-term deals, will be going anywhere, but everybody else from Marleau and captain Joe Thornton on down should be fair game.
It also may be time for San Jose to give up on goaltender Antti Niemi, who led Chicago to a Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2010 but has yet to build on that promise with the Sharks.
On the other side of history stand the Kings, a club that is aiming to solidify its legacy by adding to the Stanley Cup title it won in 2012. Although the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks also are in the second round, it's not a stretch to think Los Angeles is the team to beat in the West after pulling off the remarkable comeback in Round 1.
Even McLellan marveled at the way the Kings never lost faith despite being blown out in Games 1 and 2. With Jonathan Quick in net, four strong lines and a defense led by the dangerous Drew Doughty, it's hard to count L.A. out no matter how bad the club can look on some nights.
"I look at it as they fixed their problems (and) we didn't," McLellan said. "Our problems got progressively worse as we went along."
Head coach Darryl Sutter's style may not be the most entertaining to watch, but his players believe in the system that helped them win a Cup two years ago, and when they stick to it, the Kings are extremely frustrating to play against.
"I think their defense just swallowed us right up, to be honest," said a dejected Thornton after Game 7. "They just played real tight defensively and their goaltender got hot like he usually does this time of the year."
Unless you're a fan of either the Kings or Sharks, you can't help but have mixed emotions about how this went down. On one hand, it was thrilling to see L.A. stare down the abyss and not even blink on the way to pulling off an amazing comeback, but at the same time how do you not feel a little bad for San Jose?
It's always a long offseason when things don't go your way in the playoffs, but this spring/summer should feel like an eternity for the Sharks. With this latest crushing postseason exit, they didn't just fail to get over the proverbial hump, they turned it into Mt. Everest.