-- Toward the end of the second period, that "here we go, again" feeling crept into the United Center and parked itself on the San Jose bench one more time.
It wasn't talked about openly among the Sharks Sunday, but there they were again -- seemingly helpless to fight a fate that grabbed them by the collars and refused to let go in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
After jumping out to another early lead, this time 2-0 through almost a period and a half, the Sharks looked like a team poised to head home for another game. Then, in the span of roughly five minutes, those plans were iced.
Chicago netted two goals to tie it, and that set the stage for a third period in which San Jose gave the Hawks three straight power plays -- the last of which ended with Dustin Byfuglien
's third game-winning goal of the series sweep.
It was reminiscent of the way the Sharks lost Game 1 in San Jose and Game 3 Friday at United Center.
"It's very disappointing," defenseman Dan Boyle
said. "With the exception of Game 2, I think we could have won all three of those games. It's that close in the playoffs. They put the puck in the net when they needed to, and we missed on a lot of chances. It's very upsetting."
It has to be considering how well the Sharks played for most of the first period. They talked a lot about getting a fast start and forcing the Hawks to feel the pressure of closing out a series in front of their home crowd.
That's exactly what happened early, when Logan Couture
's wrist shot from just inside the left circle beat Antti Niemi
high to the far side 11:08 into the game. That gave San Jose a 1-0 lead and enough momentum to control the action for all but the last few minutes of the first period.
Until Brian Campbell
put a shot on Evgeni Nabokov
with 3:44 left in the first, Chicago's only shot on goal of the game came from more than 50 feet away by Patrick Kane
. After Campbell's shot, the Hawks showed more life. They peppered Nabokov with six of their seven shots on goal in the period.
"They took over the last few minutes of the first period," said Boyle, who took the first of the Sharks' third-period penalties. "Then they got two goals (in the second) and we were just kind of having trouble."
The first of those goals came off the stick of Brent Seabrook
and summed up the Sharks' luck in this series -- namely, bad. Seabrook wristed a shot from about 30 feet away with 6:45 left in the second, and then watched as the puck slowly slid through Nabokov's legs during a scramble.
An official waved it off, but a video review showed it to be a goal. Things got worse from there for the Sharks.
tied it 2-2 just over four minutes later by circling behind Nabokov and flicking a wrist shot that first deflected off Sharks defenseman Kent Huskins
' glove and went over Nabokov's trapper.
"Every single guy feels for each other," Nabokov said. "Every individual who has played this game has felt it. If you lose, you also (wonder) if you could have done something different. What if I don't make this mistake or what if I scored that one? That's what's going on right now in the minds of the guys."
Forwards Dany Heatley
and Joe Thornton
, in particular.
"With the exception of Game 2, I think we could have won all three of those games. It’s that close in the playoffs. They put the puck in the net when they needed to, and we missed on a lot of chances. It’s very upsetting." -- Rob Blake
Heatley took two penalties in this game, including the slash that put the Hawks on the power play that led to Byfuglien's goal, and finished the series with two points (no goals) and a minus-4 rating. Thornton had just one assist in the series and finished minus-5.
"We just didn't get the job done," Heatley said. "They played well, but at the same time I thought we could have played better. Game 1 and Game 3 in particular, I thought we played well enough to win those games and didn't find a way to do it."
The way it ended also puts a damper on what the Sharks accomplished by going two rounds further than a year ago -- a sentiment that stings regardless of being swept or losing in seven.
"It doesn't matter (about being swept), because you fight right to the end and it's the same feeling as last year," center Joe Pavelski
said. "It's the same feeling because you don't get to the goal that you wanted."