You just know the Sharks were itching to play this game.
Just two years ago, Los Angeles turned San Jose’s 3-0 series lead in the opening round in the playoffs into a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad series by coming back in historic fashion to defeat the Sharks in seven games. With the specter of the collapse still swirling around the franchise, the series against the Kings was an opportunity to exorcise ghosts of playoffs past. It was also an opportunity to take down the bullies 300 miles to the south.
It’s just one game, but San Jose moved one step toward doing both after its 4-3 win last night at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Kings/Sharks Pregame notes
The Kings were 2-3 against the Sharks during the regular season, having been outscored 18-13. The teams combined for a total of 43 power plays, a statistic favoring the Sharks given their third-ranked power play.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter addressed this issue directly:
I think in the playoffs, everybody resets. If you’d look at past playoffs, for example, I know when we’ played New Jersey in the finals, they were coming off a regular season where they had, I believe, the best penalty killing in the history in the National Hockey League, and in playoffs they had the worst. So it just tells you about the changes, and what happens a lot in playoffs, it just becomes more magnified. Officials get caught in it, too. There are games where it becomes more of an even number. It’s very seldom lopsided. If it’s lopsided, that’s means that one team’s got the *bleep* kicked out of them. There’s a good reason, also, why most teams are in the playoffs in today’s game. You look at numbers, you say that the Sharks have a good power play, how many teams are in 20-percents now? Probably half the league is. So 20 percent of it used to be a once-every-couple-of-year deal. Now you’ve got 10 teams, including both teams tonight. So penalties not taken are very important.
And now, on to the game, a clash pitting the Pacific division’s second (Kings) and third (Sharks) seeded teams:
The Sharks had the early jump on the Kings, perhaps in large part due to the redemption issue mentioned earlier. However, it was the Kings that struck first. Pinching down low, defenseman Jake Muzzin slid the puck from the corner to the front of the net. The puck banked off Tomas Hertl’s skate and into the net for the early 1-0 lead.
San Jose struck back at the 6:25 mark of the period as while on the power play, Joe Pavelski one-timed a pass from Brent Burns into the net. After one period, the score was tied 1-1, with San Jose leading in shots, 8-5.
The second period was, in a word, wild.
Off the draw in the Kings zone, the puck came straight back to Brent Burns, who rifled it past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick for the 2-1 lead. Seconds later, Jeff Carter returned the favor, flipping the puck off Burns’ outstretched stick and into the net, tying the score. At the 17:18 mark, Trevor Lewis and Dwight King led a 2-1 rush into the Sharks zone, with Lewis pulling off a slick toe-drag maneuver and then roofing the puck home, giving the Kings a 3-2 lead. With the goal, Los Angeles had the lead, the momentum, and was looking to put the game out of reach.
The Sharks had other plans. Instead of being content with the status quo as the period was drawing to a close, Tomas Hertl fought for the puck in a scrum at the front of the net and flipped it into the net, tying the score with 2:12 left in the period. The clutch goal set up a dramatic, decisive final act.
Given the back-and-forth scoring in the first two periods, one might expect more of the same in the final frame. However, the game settled down to an old-fashioned defensive and goaltending battle. After being outshot 20-14 entering the third period, the Kings finally grabbed the momentum advantage, only to be turned away by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
The lone score of the period came early. After collecting the puck low in the Kings zone following a faceoff win, Joe Pavelski circled around the net and unleashed a wicked snap shot that Quick never had a chance against. The goal put the Sharks up, 4-3.
The balance of the third period was a tense, classic playoff battle. Los Angeles culminated their efforts with a furious comeback attempt with the goalie pulled in the final 90 seconds, but it was not to be. When the final horn sounded, the Sharks had drawn first blood, winning the opener 4-3.
“I didn’t know it went in, to be honest,” said Pavelski about his game winning goal. “I heard it hit the post. I’m like, ‘Oh, God, it might have the post. It might be laying there.’ I’ll have to get back to work. And it’s a goal.” Said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer: “Big-game guy for us. He’s our captain for a reason. He scores a lot of key goals. He’s been clutch like that for us all season.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter talked about the keys to the series: “Depends how our top players [play] versus their players. I think tonight it was sawed off, that part of it. You know, it goes deeper into your lineup than that. I think if we’re only going to get 23 or 4 or 5 shots or whatever it was at the end of the game each, then it might be a match-up that’s bigger than just your top guys up front. It might be the goaltenders.”
Not sure exactly what that meant, Coach, but we love you anyway. Game two is Saturday 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.