Let me say this first. The Kings absolutely deserve to be playing a Game 7. In no way do I believe that the Sharks deserved to win Game 6. But the Kings controversial goal that broke the tie in Monday night’s clash will forever cast doubt on the series itself. And that is a shame, because the epic rise and fall of the Sharks paired with the stumble and comeback of the Kings is one for the history books.
The Kings Controversial Goal Analyzed
Because this is what will undoubtedly be talked about for eternity, the goal scored by Justin Williams at 11:54 of the final period.
In the ensuing chaos, so many things happened all at once. Complaints for an “intent to blow” rule, a more valid claim for a “pushing the goalie” rule, and a curious “review.” Let’s try and break it down.
On the play, Anze Kopitar brings the puck down the boards and leaves it for Robyn Regehr who throws a shot on goal. Initially, it seems as though Alex Stalock, Sharks netminder, has it somewhere in his gear. But referee, Chris Lee, gets great position above the goal line to see that the puck is still loose. While it is covered, it is not secured by the netminder. Therefore, the play should not be halted. In similar situations, goalies lie on their backs to secure the puck and keep players from jabbing it out from under them.
As the referee moves behind the net, he sees that the puck is loose. He brought the whistle to his lips but pulled it back down. Thus, all claims for “intent to blow” should be laid to rest. The majorly flawed “intent” rule only covers for plays in which a referee didn’t have the chance to blow his whistle in time to stop a play. Chris Lee makes the conscious choice to not blow his whistle and allow play to continue. So, as a result, the flaw in this play is not with the failure to blow play dead. Alex Stalock had not frozen the puck.
Instead, the failure in this situation, is with the fashion in which the puck is put into the net. Per the NHL Rulebook:
“In the event that a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck by an attacking player after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed. If applicable, appropriate penalties will be assessed”
—NHL Rulebook, Rule 69.6
The previous two images show that the puck is behind Stalock before any contact from a Kings player. The Kings controversial goal is a direct result of Justin Williams pushing Stalock, not the puck, backwards and deeper into his crease. The puck is behind Stalock, there is no way that Williams stick ever made contact with the puck. The problem is, the referee does not call goalie interference. And, apparently, that aspect of play is not reviewable. The only thing that the Situation Room could determine was if the puck crossed before a whistle was blown. Or something.
A Tale of Two Series
Either way, this series has shifted. Well, it had shifted. Aside from Games 1 and 2, the Sharks have been in a major dogfight with their rivals from southern California. A few fluke bounces in Game 3 bounced the wrong way for Los Angeles and the Kings were on the ropes. Then, Jonathan Quick came back, the Sharks offense came back down to Earth, and the Sharks goalie, Antti Niemi, fell apart.
For instance, just look at the save percentages by game for both teams. The Kings goalies went 0.821, 0.825, 0.900, 0.923, 1.000, and Monday night earned a save percentage of 0.962. Conversely, Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock have gone the opposite direction: 0.912, 0.923, 0.903, 0.808 (the lowest of the series), 0.842, and an 0.867 on Monday by Stalock.
The injury to Marc-Edouard Vlasic on Saturday night wounded the Sharks already shaky defense. The offense was rolling and the Kings were vastly under-performing. The three to zero lead was misleading. When the real Kings showed up, the Sharks were caught off guard and unable to cope. An embarrassing display at home brought real doubt into the Sharks camp for the first time after Game 5.
Game 6 on Monday ended in the same result. But Alex Stalock came in to stop the bleeding. He played wonderfully for two periods. Stalock held the Kings to one goal when LA easily deserved at least three. The Sharks were hanging on and applying just enough pressure to worry Kings fans. The Sharks mustered a pathetic two shots during a two-man advantage that lasted over 1:30. They did not convert. Joe Pavelski’s line was absolutely dominated all night. And new addition Marty Havlat (another valiant effort by McLellan to adapt) was directly at fault for the opening goal.
What’s worse is who scored in Game 6 for the Kings. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams both net two goals to force a full series. Vlasic’s primary responsibility was Anze Kopitar, who scored both his goals after the Kings controversial goal. Prior to Monday night, Kopitar was held largely in check. He only scored once. Vlasic’s absence just might have awakened a sleeping giant.
Make History? Or Avoid Repeating Old Mistakes?
It is time for San Jose to step up. After the Kings controversial goal, they fell apart and lost all discipline. Despite Jonathan Quick losing his cool near the end of the game, the Sharks came out the bigger losers. They were unable to deal with adversity at all. Adversity is a common part of each playoff series. The Sharks must mature overnight and rally. The offense must pick up their game. Stalock should stay in the net. And the Sharks must get back to what made them so successful: fast and clean play. They cannot match the Kings on the boards. They need to dominate possession and make their goalie’s job easy.
Will Los Angeles make the improbable comeback on Wednesday? Or will San Jose rally and put their playoff demons behind them? To be honest, in this series, your prediction is as good as mine. But, I am of the school of thought that winning four in a row against a very good hockey team is very hard. Final score: San Jose wins 2-1 in OT.
— Kenneth Laws (@Kenneth_LawsTHW) April 29, 2014