LOS ANGELES -- Joe Thornton will not receive many more chances like this one. The Shark captain turns 34 years old this summer. He has never been to the Stanley Cup finals. Neither has his team. Tuesday night was another opportunity to take a big step and get there.

Instead, it ended the way Thornton's previous seven seasons have ended in a San Jose uniform, with him standing in a quiet dressing room after being eliminated. Tuesday night, the room seemed especially hushed, because this was a Game 7 and the Sharks had come so close to defeating the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings.

Beat the champs on Tuesday and who knows? The Sharks might have finally pushed through to the Cup finals. But the final score in Game 7 was Kings 2, Sharks 1. Season done.

"They're a real good team, the Kings," said Thornton in the hushed room. "But we thought we could come in and steal away a game from them."

But they never managed to complete the theft, in four attempts. Ultimately, that was the story of the series. The Sharks won three games in San Jose and lost four games here at Staples Center. The home team won every game and the Sharks did not have the home ice advantage -- because they lost the last game of the season here at Staples to the Kings.

Maybe the home ice wouldn't have made a difference. Maybe it would have. Hockey is such a maddening exercise when two teams are relatively even, with one little bounce or one skate in the wrong place leading to one decisive goal.

Tuesday night's loss by a score of 2-1 was an indication of how close it was in nearly all seven games. For the beloved Los Tiburones it was yet another night in Los Angeles of almosts, not-quites, nearly-ins -- and mostly, one more world-class save by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick whenever his team needed one.

"Jonathan Quick is just a fantastic goalie," Thornton said. "But it feels disappointing right now. We were just having so much fun. It's disappointing that it has to end because we were really enjoying this. It's a tough way to finish."

If Thornton seemed to take this more personally than other defeats -- although he is always a hard loser -- it was probably because of that dynamic he mentioned. More than previous Sharks teams that have come up short, this one seemed to have more of an underdog camaraderie inside the room. A potent mix of personalities and clutch goals took them to a franchise-first playoff sweep over Vancouver in the first playoff round.

Taking the Kings to seven games in the second round continued the ride. And other Sharks such as Logan Couture and Dan Boyle scored some big goals, but Thornton was driving the ride until the very last horn, the best player on the ice. Even the Kings admitted as much. Dustin Brown, their captain, called Thornton a "dominant force" and "the biggest part of the series for them."





But here was the problem: Thornton was taking offensive shifts. He could not be out there all the time. And the best player on the ice for every minute of the series was Quick. He was remarkable.

Could Thornton have done more? He missed the net on the only shot he took Tuesday, perhaps weary from playing more minutes than any other Shark in Sunday's Game 6. But he still won 63% of the faceoffs he took and had stretches where he controlled the puck. He was out there at the end for the final frantic minute when the Sharks tried and failed to tie the game.

So, sure, you might say Thornton could have done more. But he could not have tried harder. And you could say the same for his teammates. Couture, who one day will become the Sharks' next captain, sat for a long time after the game with his shirt off but still wearing his hockey pants and leg pads and skates. He stared at the walls and the floor.

"So close," said Couture. "We just couldn't score on our chances. That's what it comes down to."

In retrospect, Game 7 may not have been why the Sharks lost the series. In Game 2 here at Staples, they held a 3-2 lead with three minutes remaining and allowed two goals to suffer a 4-3 loss.

"We'd love to go back and play Game 2 over again, the last four or five minutes," McLellan said. "That's probably one that we needed and didn't get it."

"I know I'll sit back all summer and think of every game," said Couture.

In the moment, however, this one hurt the most. If the Kings should go on to win another Cup, it will hurt even worse. Darryl Sutter, the Kings coach, opined after Tuesday's game that the series couldn't have been tighter, saying of the Sharks: "They're as good as us."

Alas, not on the scoreboard.

"We played our hearts out," said Thornton.

Then he showered and got on the bus.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.