The Kings expected to make significant progress this season on their road to that ever-elusive Stanley Cup championship, to at least get past the one-and-done mile marker they reached last spring.
Their season ended Monday six games into a playoff adventure that was as inconsistent as their 82-game season had been and unusually dramatic, though often for the wrong reasons.
Joe Thornton scored 2 minutes 22 seconds into overtime to give the San Jose Sharks a 4-3 victory and end the Kings' season at the same point it concluded a year ago. They can say they pushed the second-seeded Sharks -- this was their third overtime loss in the series -- and Coach Terry Murray pointed to some gains after players had shaken hands at center ice at a deflated Staples Center, and he professed his disappointment that his team had exited so early.
"I'm very pleased with the growth of the individuals, the growth of the team and what we talked about as far as the culture. I really like the direction it's heading," he said.
But on Monday the team's direction seemed to be sideways, not forward.
Continuing their season-long struggles on the power play, the Kings couldn't cash in a five-minute advantage they gained late in the third period and carried into overtime after Jamie McGinn was banished for charging.
Whether from nerves or inexperience or the lack of poise under pressure, they turned the puck over time after time after time -- so often, in fact, that Murray called his timeout at 12:08 of the first period.
They lost all three of their playoff home games and too often strayed from the defense-first style that got them through a hotly competitive 82-game season. Jonathan Quick bailed them out in Game 5 with a 51-save effort that brought the series back to Staples Center but the road ended at home, in a sixth game, as it did last season against Vancouver.
"Right now it's disappointing," team captain Dustin Brown said when asked to evaluate the team's progress. "It's hard to reflect on the whole however many months this was. Nothing but disappointment right now."
They missed Anze Kopitar's scoring and outstanding defensive play after the stalwart center injured his ankle late in the season but his absence doesn't explain the dozens of little errors that added up to a big letdown Monday.
"At the end of the day we weren't as good as they were," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "Whether you lose in four, five, six or seven, you still lost and it's disappointing. To go out in the first round is really disappointing, especially with our expectations."
Home teams have struggled in every series, but that's no excuse, either. "You've got to win your home games. You've got to win one of them," he said. To lose all three, he said, "is inexcusable in the playoffs."
He pointed to the Kings' overtime loss in Game 3 as the pivotal point of the series. "Coughing up that one at home, a 4-0 lead and a chance to go up, 2-1 in the series, that's big," Johnson said. "The reason we even had a Game 6 was because of Quick. He stole that game on the road. We were fortunate to get here because he stood on his head with 52 shots on goal."
They were playing catchup all game Monday. Kyle Wellwood lifted a Thornton pass beyond Quick's reach at 2:58 of the first period but Justin Williams matched that on a power-play rebounder at 13:27. An inexplicably wide-open Jason Demers scored from the right circle at 16:52 of the second period but the Kings matched that 18 seconds into the third, on Ryan Smyth's rebound of a Jarret Stoll shot. After the Sharks took their timeout, Dany Heatley scored from the left faceoff dot at 8:48, but Trevor Lewis potted a rebound during a power play at 11:39 to make it 3-3.
The Kings peppered Antti Niemi with shots during the five-minute advantage but couldn't score, and if General Manager Dean Lombardi didn't take note of that, someone should remind him when free agency opens July 1. They were done in -- and done -- when Devin Setoguchi carried the puck around and threw it in front, where it was swatted by Patrick Marleau before Thornton converted the rebound.
Quick said the Kings' young players should benefit from all they experienced this season. "You've got to be proud of the way the team played just to get in there," he said. "Obviously, it's unfortunate the way it ended up."
At some point the promises will have to be replaced by results. Won't they?