by Michael Duca
(SAN JOSE, Cal) Dan Boyle, possessor of a Stanley Cup ring, said prior to Saturday’s Game five against the Los Angeles Kings, “When you have a chance to end it, you end it.”
Jonathan Quick stopped 51 of the 52 shots he faced and stole the game for his teammates, who jumped out to a quick early lead and then rode their goaltender for the final 51 minutes.
After going down 4-0 to the Kings at Staples Center earlier in the week, then storming back for a 6-5 overtime win, the Sharks looked like they were trying to repeat history when they rapidly dug themselves a 3-0 hole against the Kings.
“It’s disappointing,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “If we expected another miracle, we were kidding ourselves. We’ve already discussed that, said we’ve used our Mulligan, and it wasn’t going to happen again.”
“We came out and sucked at the start, it’s that simple,” said Logan Couture.
Wayne Simmonds redirected Kyle Clifford’s shot at 3:36 of the first to open the scoring.
2:38 later, Boyle turned over the puck in the neutral zone, and Simmonds drilled a shot that rattled in, then out, of Niemi’s glove, dropping in front of Clifford for an easy put-back.
When Dustin Penner took a screened shot from the top of the circle a minute-and-a-half later, the Kings held a 3-0 advantage less than nine minutes in.
San Jose finished the first period with 19 shots and nothing to show for them. Niittymaki faced just two shots the rest of that period.
While clearly blessed with superior speed and skill, the Sharks appeared to be playing tight much of the night — mis-hitting several pucks on scoring chances, not putting passes onto teammates’ tape, and generally “just missing” all night long, epitomized when Couture shot a rolling puck over a spreadeagled Quick and drilled the post.
“I got good wood on it,” sighed Couture. “I think I made the right play. I didn’t have space for my backhand, and if I waited a second to settle it, he probably would have gotten out and cut the angle even more. That’s just the way this game goes; sometimes, it hits the post and comes back out at you, and sometimes it hits the post and goes in.”
Patrick Marleau jammed a rebound of a Niclas Wallin shot under Quick at 5:43 of the second period to put the Sharks on the board.
Even though the Sharks again out-shot the Kings in the second period, 18-15, they were being out-hit and losing the battle of the faceoff circle, two things that did not bode well for a puck-control team that was supposed to close out the series with its superior depth.
“Going into the game the whole conversation was about the checking part of the game,” said Kings coach Terry Murray. “There is no question that they were going to come out with a lot of energy, a lot of emotion to try to close this series out here tonight. We knew that. We were prepared for that kind of attitude. I thought we were OK at the start of the game.”
Los Angeles tested Niittymaki mightily early in the third period. The Sharks’ second netminder had been allowing some long rebounds througout the second frame, but made a brilliant glove save of a wide-open shot by Kings blueliner Drew Doughty that seemed to energize his team.
McLellan would not commit to a goaltender for game six, although he suggested that this loss did not belong only to Niemi.
“We get tomorrow to decide (the goaltender). We feel we have two quality guys. We will look at the goals. The first one was a heck of a deflection, Clifford got a stick on it, you have to give them that one. The second one, Niemi makes a great save on a 2-on-1 that should not exist if we don’t make the turnover; the rebound goes in the net, I’m not sure you figure the goaltender for that one. The third one, he’s fairly deep in his net, and I think he knows that. At that point, we needed to change something. We had 18 skaters dressed; we weren’t going to change any of them, so we turned to the goaltender.”
Perhaps the most disappointing thing for McLellan and his staff is the fact that the Sharks have been out-scored 8-to-1 in the first periods of the five games played so far, and their only first-period tally came 28 seconds into the first game. The coach said he was more concerned about the eight than he was about the one, but since teams that score first are winning nearly 80% of the games in this year’s playoffs, he’s got to be concerned about both of those numbers.
Now, it’s back to Los Angeles, where the Sharks are 2-0 in the playoffs already, and hope to close out the series before it gets to that “anything-can-happen-in-game-seven” situation.
“Hopefully we can get up around 50 shots again next game,” said Clowe. Couture added, “If we can put that many shots on net again in game six, pucks will find the back of the net.”
As Boyle said, “When you have the opportunity to win that fourth game, you have to take advantage of it. You don’t want to have to get on a plane and play 60 tough minutes down there again.” That is exactly what will happen Monday night, though.