The Ducks saved their best for last, for whatever small consolation that might bring them while they analyze how they fell from being a Western Conference finalist last season to being swept out of the first round of the playoffs this spring by the smart, energized San Jose Sharks.
Their best effort was their last effort of a season they appeared to have salvaged when they overcame early injuries to finish second in the Pacific division but threw away with sloppy, undisciplined play in the first three playoff games. Their 2-1 loss to the Sharks sent them home with no next game on this season’s schedule but a lot of questions about how they’ve fallen so far so fast.
“Tonight’s an effort but it’s far from the effort that we need and it takes to compete in the playoffs throughout a series,” team captain Ryan Getzlaf said.
“So we have to look at things throughout the summer here and get prepared mentally and physically for the following season, because obviously this year wasn’t good enough.”
Unable to match the Sharks’ depth and speed and stymied repeatedly by goaltender Martin Jones, the Ducks listened and watched as the raucous crowd at SAP Center chanted “Sweep!” and got its wish.
Jones was exceptional on Wednesday, stopping 30 shots and holding the Ducks off the board until Andrew Cogliano scored from close range off a pass from Ryan Kesler at 7:53 of the third period to tie the score 1-1.
However, the Sharks regained the lead at 9:09 after Tomas Hertl pressured Getzlaf into making a bad clearing pass and then redirected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot from the left point past Ducks goalie John Gibson.
Jones stopped 128 of 132 shots in the series by the Ducks, whose traditional truculent and heavy game is no longer a key to success in a league that now values balance and speed.
The Sharks outscored the Ducks 16-4.
“This definitely was our best game but it still wasn’t enough,” Corey Perry said, “and it’s tough because you play this way the first couple games and you never know what can happen. That’s the frustrating part.”
Fourth-line Sharks winger Marcus Sorensen scored on his own rebound at 5:43 of the first period to put the Ducks behind early, a situation they had hoped to avoid.
The Ducks got the puck past Jones at the end of the second period but after the clock had run out; Rickard Rakell rifled a shot past him 27 seconds into the third period but a challenge by the Sharks was upheld because Perry was offside on the right wing.
They persisted, putting behind them their awful performance in an 8-1 loss in Game 3, but they couldn’t overcome the Sharks’ grit and defensive diligence.
“We responded. We never gave up after the game three result,” Getzlaf said. “But ultimately we have the same fate.”
It was the first time the Ducks were swept in a playoff series since 1999; this was their 26th series after that. They had passed San Jose in the final weekend of the regular season to gain home-ice advantage but the Sharks took that away from them and set a tone of opportunism and discipline from the start.
“They’re a good team,” Cogliano said. “I think throughout the series we didn’t play our best, obviously, but they’re good.
“They make it hard to score. They’re tough defensively and obviously Jones is playing at the top of his game.
“I thought we could have had a few more goals tonight on him and he was the difference. Any other game I think we could have gotten a few on him and opened the game up.”
Perry had his most effective game but had nothing to show for it because of Jones’ steadiness.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to him.,” Perry said. “He made some big saves. He made some big saves on me in tight and on the power play and those are frustrating for a guy like me. That’s my area.
“That’s kind of where I make a living.”
Jones and the Sharks, who next will face the Vegas Golden Knights — who swept the Kings out of the playoffs on Tuesday — kept Perry scoreless and sent the Ducks home earlier than they’d imagined.
Their early exit leaves them with many weighty decisions this summer as they try to catch up to a league that has left them behind in many ways.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen