The Los Angeles Kings seemed destined to build a dynasty after winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 and reaching the Western Conference Final the year in between. But since hoisting the Cup, the Kings have won one Stanley Cup Playoff game and have yet to follow up that illustrious three-year run.
The San Jose Sharks ended the Kings' 2016 postseason bid Friday in Los Angeles with a Game 5 victory, eliminating them 4-1 in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series.
The Kings set a franchise record with 48 wins and had control of the Pacific Division for most of the season. Yet it was their area rival, the Anaheim Ducks, who won the division title on the final day of the regular season. So, what exactly went wrong?
Here are five reasons the Kings were eliminated:
1. Depleted at the blue line: Drew Doughty averaged nearly 31 minutes of ice time per game in the postseason (30:49), which was par for the course. But the rest of the defense struggled. The very foundation of this team's style of play is the blue line. Former postseason hero Alec Martinez, who scored the game-winning goals in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final and Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, was lost to an undisclosed injury in Game 1.
Video: LAK@SJS, Gm4: Doughty plays goalie, robs Thornton
Martinez was crucial to their system and never afraid to jump in on a play and help generate offense.
"It was huge down the stretch, too, if you look at it," coach Darryl Sutter said. "We can't use injuries as an excuse but we weren't really evenly matched when you think about it. [The Sharks] got [Marc-Eduard] Vlasic back and we lost Marty. That's losing the top end of your defense."
Without a loaded blue line, the Kings weren't able to play the style of play that has made them successful in the past.
2. At a loss: In Game 1, Jake Muzzin scored early but the Sharks' Joe Pavelski tied the game a few minutes later and Brent Burns made it 2-1 not long after that. San Jose scored first in each of the next four games and was able to set the tone and dictate the pace. The Kings' only win came in overtime of Game 3 on the road.
By playing from behind nearly the entire series, they played the Sharks' game instead of their own.
"We were chasing the lead all the time. Pretty much every game," forward Anze Kopitar said. "With the exception of one game when we scored first, we were chasing the lead the rest of the way. You can't do that."
Video: SJS@LAK: Kopitar puts the Kings on the board in 2nd
3. Not so special: The Sharks won a pivotal Game 4, thanks to three power-play goals. They converted 23.8 percent of their extra-man chances and used their momentum to create offense after penalties expired.
Before the series began, the Kings said the key was to stay out of the penalty box. They said it again after Games 1, 2 and 4. They never heeded their own advice and often were forced to take penalties in order to prevent goals or disrupt San Jose's momentum.
But in many cases, their emotions got the best of them and they paid the price.
"It shouldn't be tough as long as we do it between the whistles," Doughty said before Game 5. "We should have no problems taking penalties. A lot of our penalties have been after the whistles and scrums and stuff like that, which we don't need and if we're playing physical, playing good defensive hockey and doing everything we can to not let them be in our zone and get shots on our goalie. We can play them between the rules with emotion."
4. Tarnished stars: Jonathan Quick was far from the Conn Smythe-winning goalie he was in 2012. In five games, he allowed 15 goals, tied for the most in the postseason. Kopitar and Jeff Carter had two goals each and Tyler Toffoli, a breakout player in the 2014 postseason, had none.
Meanwhile, Pavelski, the Sharks captain, scored five times. Logan Couture made big contributions as did Burns, who had three points in Game 5. When it mattered the most, San Jose's top players led while the Kings top players were still trying to get going.
"Plain and simple, we weren't hard enough on their top guys, on their 'D' or on their goaltender, and we weren't committed to the little things that it takes to win a playoff series," forward Milan Lucic said. "They blocked more shots than us, beared down on their opportunities more than we did, and that's why we came out on the losing end of things."
Video: SJS@LAK, Gm5: Quick snatches Vlasic's snap shot
5. Downward spiral: The regular season didn't end well for the Kings, who went 5-6-1 in their final 12 games. There was no momentum to carry over to the postseason.
The few times they did have any, they were unable to build on it. The Kings showed flashes of dominance, but not enough to make any sort of run. By the postseason, they had run out of gas.
"Starting from when we clinched the playoff spot, I think we only played one really good game and that was at home against the [Anaheim] Ducks," Lucic said. "Since that point, it's definitely disappointing from how hard we worked in the season to when we clinched a spot as fast as we could that we didn't make the most of it. We can make excuses all we want with [Martinez] being out of the lineup and this and that, but at the end of the day, we didn't play the right way when we needed to, and it ended up costing us."