“We’re really happy with our game tonight. That’s more of the L.A. Kings style of play,” said franchise defenseman Drew Doughty after the win. “I thought this was our best defensive game so far this series.”
The Los Angeles Kings dominated the stat sheet
Statistics don’t always tell the whole story, but the tale of Saturday night’s win at the SAP Arena in San Jose, California was clearly etched in the numbers. Los Angeles had as many or more shots through two periods (31) than during any of the entire past three games, outshooting the Sharks 40-31 overall. The Kings won more faceoffs (27-25), were +14 in turnovers, won the special teams battle (1-0 in power play goals) and even blocked five more shots.
To the eye, the performances on the ice were even more telling. Jonathan Quick was fantastic, every bit the clutch goaltender he’s shown himself to be during the previous two playoffs seasons, ones which saw the team advance to the Western Conference Finals (2013) and win the Cup (2012). Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar were flying. Dustin Brown played the precise north/south style fans at LetsGoKings.com have been practically begging him to do for years. Justin Williams was relentless. Tanner Pearson was as wiley as a grizzled veteran. Tyler Toffoli was a sharpshooting sniper. Dwight King was a wrecking ball. Drew Doughty was a man on a mission.
For those who missed the game, the following is a quick recap of the Los Angeles win, with highlights. Ignore the stilted voice-over:
In the end, goals by Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter sealed the Sharks’ fate. With the 3-0 win, Los Angeles climbed to within 3-2 in the series, with the next game in Los Angeles. Despite the back-to-back losses, the Sharks are still in control. Or are they?
The odds may be long to win, but the Kings have a number of high hole cards
Granted, calling the odds ‘long’ is like saying Bill Gates is ‘well off’. After Tuesday’s overtime loss which put the team in an 0-3 hole, the Kings faced a Herculean challenge only achieved three times in NHL history: winning a series after losing the first three games. The previous three teams that had done it were the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1942 finals, the New York Islanders in the 1975 Quarterfinals, and the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. That makes the percentage chance a miniscule 1.71%.
Seems like the Kings are still pinned against the ropes, and by that math, it’s hard to argue. But we’re not punching calculator buttons prior to game four anymore; the past two games are history, with the series now basically a two-game home-and-home matchup. L.A. merely has to win Monday night at home, and then all the pressure will be squarely on the Sharks’ back in game seven.
So what factors do the Kings have going for them to overcome the odds?
Superior defense. The Kings led the regular season in fewest goals allowed. Although not exactly showing itself in the first three games, the defense has come to play in games four and five.
Superior physicality. The Sharks have done a great job amping up the physicality, but the Kings still lead in total hits by 33 in the series after having led the NHL in the regular season.Superior faceoff skills. The two teams tied with a 52.8% winning percentage in the regular season (behind just Nashville), but so far, it’s the Kings winning the majority (50.6%) in the postseason.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Two key pieces of the Kings’ lineup were on that 2010 Flyers team that climbed the mountain to win after losing the first three games. Don’t think for a minute that their experience isn’t being bantered about in the locker room this time around.
Certainty in net. Although he posted poor numbers in the first three games, Jonathan Quick is back. He’s given up just three goals on a combined 70 shots (.957 save percentage) over the past two games. Meanwhile, it’s not clear whether Antti Niemi or Alex Stalock will start game six. Either way, the pressure will be on.
Todd McLellan acknowledged as such after the game:
#SJSharks McLellan admits to me he has a decision to make in net for Game 6
— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) April 27, 2014
Championship pedigree. Los Angeles is virtually the same team that won the Cup in 2012. These guys know what to do and how to do it better than anyone. On the other hand, the Sharks have frequently underwhelmed in the playoffs, and those fingers are conspicuously lacking rings.
Momentum. Back about ten years ago, EA Sports’ NHL series had a feature called the ‘momentum meter’. When you played the opponent and scored a goal, connected on a few big hits or did a few other good things, that meter would be raging all the way to the right, and your guys on the ice would be flying all over the place. That was the Kings tonight, and with their momentum meter raging and the home crowd packed to the rafters, it’s more than likely we’ll see it again on Monday night.
The series is officially on
Despite the hype and hyperbole, it’s still a tall order for the Kings to win the series. That being said, stranger things have happened. I’m reminded of a line by the legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, one which he uttered shortly after Kirk Gibson’s famous home run to win game one of the 1988 World Series: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Kings fans hope it will be legendary announcer Bob Miller uttering words to that effect after game seven. We’ll find out soon enough.