They say baseball is a game of inches. In hockey, sometimes a fraction of an inch is all it takes to turn a big win into a crushing loss.
Nobody knows that better than the Los Angeles Kings, who came within a Marian Gaborik shot off the post in the third period from defeating the San Jose Sharks in game three of their Western conference quarterfinals series. Instead, the game ended up going to overtime, where Patrick Marleau’s goal on the Sharks’ only shot in the extra frame ended the game in a hurry. The 4-3 loss put Los Angeles into an enormous hole, down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“I thought we played a pretty good hockey game,” said coach Darryl Sutter, assessing his team’s performance in the loss.
The Sharks draw first blood
Los Angeles had early momentum, but it was San Jose that scored first. With Dwight King in the penalty box for tripping James Sheppard, Brent Burns one-timed a Joe Thornton pass and only caught about 20% of it. The puck floated on a high arc and fluttered past goaltender Jonathan Quick’s glove, who looked like he was trying to catch a butterfly — and missed.
The game settled down after that into an entertaining, see-saw affair, with momentum swinging back and forth. Los Angeles had the majority of early chances, but San Jose had good ones later in the period. After one, the Sharks led 1-0, with L.A. ahead in shots, 8-7. “We weren’t doing a good job of getting our pucks to the net like we did the first two games,” said Marleau.
The Kings fight back in the second
The second period had been the bane of the Kings’ existence in the first two games, but L.A. tightened up considerably in this one and briefly took the lead. At 4:48 and on a power play of their own, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli and Jarret Stoll executed a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play, with Stoll receiving the cross-slot feed and slamming it home past Antti Niemi, tying the game. Just over three minutes later and on a 3-2 rush, Marian Gaborik went coast-to-coast and somehow was given all the space he needed to close in on Niemi and roof a backhander into the net, giving the Kings the brief lead.
Brief, indeed, as San Jose scored another fluke goal at 9:17. Marleau took the puck behind the Kings’ net, then passed it to Jason Demers at the point. Demers wristed it on net, but at that very instant, Robyn Regehr had collided with Jonathan Quick, knocking him down. Demers’ shot was tipped by Matt Nieto into the open chasm of the net, tying the game 2-2. The period ended that way, with Los Angeles up in shots, 18-16.
The teams trade goals in the third
At 0:51 of the third and with the Kings on the power play again, Anze Kopitar set up near the half-wall, waited a bit, then fired a snap shot on net. Jeff Carter, displaying world-class hand-to-eye coordination, tipped the puck, and Niemi caught just a piece of it before it trickled into the net for the 3-2 Kings lead. “We scored two power play goals, which were big for us, obviously,” said Sutter. “Even though it only shows up as one, they really scored two, too.”
The Sharks tied the game at 9:17 of the third period, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot was stopped by Quick, but in the ensuing scrum around the net, rookie Tomas Hertl tipped the puck into the net, his second goal of the series. The Sharks carried the play in the period, firing 23 shots versus just eight for the Kings. However, at the horn, the game was tied 3-3.
A Quick and painful loss
In desperate need for a win, the Kings could ill afford any loss, much less a loss where — once again — Jonathan Quick wasn’t exactly at his best. Certainly, he was better than in games one and two, but at least those losses were never in doubt. In this one, the Kings had every chance to win the game in overtime.
Los Angeles out-chanced San Jose in overtime, peppering Niemi with shot after shot. Alas, Patrick Marleau’s backhander deflected off Slava Voynov’s stick and floated into the net, the Sharks’ third weird goal of the game. With that, the Kings suffered their third loss in a row and now have a Herculean task at hand: win four straight or go home.
“They’re a good hockey club,” said Sutter. “I’m not saying it because they’re up three-nothing in the series. That’s a really good hockey club over there. It’s a tough hill, and we won’t go quietly away, that’s for sure.” Dustin Brown said, “I’m not surprised with how they’re playing. They’ve been a top team for a long time now actually. We’re just giving them too many opportunities, and when you’re playing a team like that, they’re going to capitalize.”
For what it’s worth, both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were on the Philadelphia Flyers team that overcame a 0-3 deficit to win their playoff series against the Boston Bruins, one of only three such comebacks in league history.
Game four is Thursday night at the Staples Center.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.