LOS ANGELES- The architects of the Miracle on Manchester and the Frenzy on Figueroa became victims of the Choke on Chick Hearn Court as the Los Angeles Kings blew a 4-0 lead Tuesday night, falling to the San Jose Sharks 6-5 in overtime at Staples Center.
Devin Setoguchi, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime, was not born for another five years after the Kings’ legendary 1982 comeback from a 5-0 deficit to beat Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers. It also occurred in game 3 of a first-round playoff series, just like Tuesday’s game. Setoguchi’s history lesson came just in time as he played the role of Daryl Evans, only this time with a hero-turned-heel twist, as it was the Kings losing this 6-5 overtime thriller.
“I was watching TV and the commercial came on today, ‘History Will Be Made,’ and I was still thinking ‘Five-nothing, how did they come back from that?'” Setoguchi said. “After the second period, it was 5-5, and it kind of ran through my head. That’s pretty ironic, I saw that and it happened tonight for us.”
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said his team stayed poised and pointed to a similar rally they had in a game at Philadelphia during the regular season. He remained enthused at how his team responded to the situation by playing “loose,” recognizing their risk was limited given their big deficit.
“You could feel it a little bit on the bench. The more we did it, the more we believed it could happen,” McLellan said.
Kings Head Coach Terry Murray had his own feeling on the bench, that kind that usually requires a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
“We stopped playing. We gave them the opportunity,” Murray said. “Heck, they’re down 4-0. Why wouldn’t you play relaxed? You’re rolling three lines and they come right at us and they took it to us, big time.”
There was never much certainty as the Sharks’ race to six was filled with sharp turns, pit stops and even a wreck or two.
“This game was so strange,” McLellan said. “To get scored on early in the first period right off the bat, that was the worst thing that could happen to us with the energy in the building … Then we gave up a goal in the first minute in the second period, we score and we give one up right away again. Like I said, we’ve used our mulligan, it’s not gonna happen again that way.”
San Jose scored repeatedly off defensive breakdowns by the typically stout Kings, who seemed to invite Sharks to the net and then transform into spectators as they swept pucks past goalie Jonathan Quick.
“I think we got away from our game, getting pucks in deep and grinding. We’re a grinding team. That’s how we have success,” Kings defenseman Matt Greene said.
Before the game, a San Jose Mercury News piece pointed to the sedate atmosphere at Staples Center, comparing the crowd at L.A. games to Kenny G concert-goers. Never so excited for a smooth soprano sax solo of “My Favorite Things,” the paying customers blared and waved white towels throughout the early going.
The Kings did not disappoint the standing-room only crowd as they darted out to an immediate 2-0 lead.
A spectacular start to a rush came from Drew Doughty who spun to dish the puck up ice. His defense partner Willie Mitchell blasted the biscuit past Antti Niemi off a smooth-flowing setup by Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth.
Thirteen seconds later, a goal came from the energetic, grinding trio of Wayne Simmonds, Brad Richardson and the rookie Kyle Clifford, who scored his second goal in as many games.
Los Angeles’ power play had a chance to bury the Sharks early when Niclas Wallin high-sticked Michal Handzus, drawing both blood and a double-minor penalty as a result.
Despite a dangerous shot from Doughty that banged off the blocker of Niemi and some solid work to sustain pressure, the Kings did not cash in on the four-minute man advantage.
Dustin Penner recorded his first point in 15 games when he and the even more fleet-footed Handzus cruised in on a two-on-two rush. Dan Boyle was late back-checking Handzus, who received a forceful pass from Penner and banged the puck home.
As if their being run over by the local train train of Handzus and Penner did not make San Jose look slow enough, Ryan Smyth beat them to a loose puck and nearly scored on a breakaway wrist shot seconds later.
The Kings carried their 3-0 lead into the intermission. A wonky clock caused some confusion and ten seconds were run off, bringing a merciful end to the frame for San Jose.
There was no rah-rah speeches or talk of “the Gipper” or other such antiquities in the San Jose locker room during the break.
“I spoke to them. At a very low volume,” McLellan said. “They’re intelligent human beings, they don’t need me to be screaming at them at that point. It probably would have been the wrong thing at that point. I had to tell them that one, we believed in them and two, that the effort and the commitment level was much higher than when we lost four-nothing.”
One major adjustment the Sharks made was rolling three lines. The Kings also effectively shortened their defensive rotation to just two pairings.
“Unfortunately, our fourth line was a victim of circumstance somewhat, two shifts, minus two,” McLellan said. “I felt that as we started to roll three lines we got our game back a little bit. There was definitely concern near the end of the night that we were running out of gas.”
Los Angeles struck even more quickly in the second stanza, 44 seconds in Brad Richardson collected a turnover and wristed the puck past Niemi. Richardson’s tally chased Niemi from the game and afforded the Kings a four-goal cushion.
Antero Niittymaki, a silver-medal-winning goalie for Finland at the 2006 Olympics and 2005 Calder Cup winner, replaced his countryman Niemi. Niittymaki made the stops he had to make and demonstrated why he has been a pressure goaltender on multiple levels in his career.
“It was a wake-up call, I guess. We really played well after that. They didn’t get a whole lot, we started scoring goals and created a little panic in their end,” Niittymaki said.
The Sharks got on the board when Patrick Marleau redirected a Boyle shot from the point past Jonathan Quick. Joe Thornton earned the secondary assist for his first point of the series.
“As soon as we scored the first goal, we were like ‘all right, we can score on this guy,'” said Marleau and Thornton’s linemate Setoguchi. “Something positive happened in the game where it kind of flipped the switch and then we got the second, then, we got the third, they got one and we just kept pushing forward and answering the bell one after another.”
Quick made a fine save during a power play, finding an Ian White shot through tons of traffic and a hefty screen by Logan Couture.
He would be less fortunate a moment later when Ryane Clowe’s shot beat him five hole to cut the San Jose deficit to two.
“It was kind of a lucky goal I scored but that’s the break we needed I think and then we took it to ’em,” Clowe said.
Setoguchi’s stuff attempt was denied by Quick and at the other end a fine wraparound chance by Richardson was stonewalled by Niittymaki.
A four-on-four sequence saw a couple solid chances for the Kings. However, the man San Jose has looked to for big goals on the road all year, Couture, drew the Sharks within one with a one-timer that beat Quick like Mike Tyson beat Michael Spinks—swiftly and soundly.
“I thought after (the early second-period goal) we had a lot of immaturity in our game, not doing the same things that we did in the first two games and the first period of this game. Eventually it comes back to bite us,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
Just as the building began to grow tentative, Los Angeles battled back. Fittingly, it was the Kings’ own captain clutch, Smyth, who one-timed in a gorgeous backhand feed from Jarret Stoll.
Kyle Wellwood put on a show with his deft hands as he dashed to the net, deked and set up a near-certain goal for Joe Pavelski. The last-second defensive effort by the body of Stoll and the stick of Alec Martinez averted any damage and maintained the two-goal advantage.
A lengthy possession, some Showtime Lakers-esque passing and a painstakingly patient play by Boyle at the right point set up a goal that Clowe could have blown into the net. Boyle’s second picturesque assist and Clowe’s second goal of the night brought San Jose to within one.
“It was probably the third opportunity on that shift alone that we scored on,” Clowe said. “They were doing that to us the last couple of games. They were big and strong in the offensive zone and we wanted to turn the tide on them tonight.”
Much as the Kings did to San Jose in game 2, the Sharks forced Los Angeles to take a grueling two-minute-plus shift that left them scrambling, rambling, huffing and puffing prior to the goal.
“So you’re exhausted, you’re getting rattled, you start doing things that are very uncharacteristic obviously, and now they’re playing the game they want,” coach Murray said. “They get into a track meet. That’s the game they wanted, after getting down 4-0. We obliged them, and all of the problems came our way because of what we were doing.”
Not quite a minute later, White’s skittering wrist shot bounced through the legs of Pavelski, who very narrowly got the puck on his blade to pop in the equalizer for San Jose.
White returned from a concussion he sustained in game 1 to record a pair of assists and generally play a solid game despite a shaky moment or two. McLellan said White was eager to play, repeatedly tracking him down and letting his coach know that he wanted to play and was ready for game action.
“He just wants to get out there and play and that’s a refreshing thing that rubs off on some other guys,” McLellan said.
The game entered the second intermission tied inexplicably at five.
“We had a good first, but it’s the playoffs and we didn’t do the things that made us successful in the first two games and the first period,” the Kings’ captain Dustin Brown said. “We didn’t get the puck in deep. We mismanaged the puck and they made some good plays. A lot of it was us not getting the puck deep. So we have only ourselves to blame.”
Early in the third period, a turnover set up Wellwood for another nifty display of his mitts that was shut down by a diving Quick and the active stick of Doughty from behind the net.
The first half of the frame saw the Kings ding a post and make several efforts to generate chances off wide shots. San Jose carried the play for the most part in terms of both possession and shots on net, however.
Simmonds sent a sharp-angle shot on net that forced Niittymaki to extend fully as he turned aside the bid with his left pad.
Thornton set up a trailing Douglas Murray but his rising wrister was nullified confidently by Quick, who saw the shot easily.
Doughty shut down another sound opportunity, he stick-checked Wellwood as he weaved toward the net for a point-blank shot.
A scramble in front picked up the action for Los Angeles, and after the puck went wide Greene wiped out Couture near the bench-side boards.
Pavelski’s winding, desperate bid from the outside of the faceoff dot was narrowly turned aside by Quick’s left pillow, sending the game to overtime.
It was there that the Sharks once again outnumbered the Kings on a rush, this time with Marleau sliding a pass across to Setoguchi who singed the twine to send the Sharks onto a victory that Hollywood’s finest screenwriters could not have scripted as spectacularly.
Setoguchi will be part of his own “History Will Be Made” ad momentarily.
“It’s still kind of a surreal feeling that we came back from 4-0,” Setoguchi said. “This is definitely one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had in Sharks history.”