SAN JOSE- For the San Jose Sharks, the “race to three” has become a familiar refrain under their head coach Todd McLellan.
Thursday night at HP Pavilion, it was a grueling marathon to three goals that ended when Joe Pavelski potted the winning goal nearly 15 minutes into overtime to give the Sharks a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in the opening game of this first-round series.
The new race to three is not to three goals, but to three wins for the Sharks, which they will need to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Pavelski’s tally was also his third career playoff overtime game-winner. He scored in front of a packed house at the Shark Tank.
“This is huge,” Pavelski said. “You work all season to get home-ice advantage. We did it and the crowd showed up tonight, they were loud. They never quieted down and it was exciting to play. You just try to channel your energy.”
A key player for each squad returned from injury. For San Jose, Ryane Clowe played for the first time since he sustained a lower-body injury in a regular-season game against the Kings April 4. On the Los Angeles side, Justin Williams returned to action for the first time since he dislocated his shoulder on March 21 in a contest against the Calgary Flames.
Clowe registered helpers on all three San Jose markers while Williams produced a goal and an assist, meaning the two players were in on every goal in the game.
“Both teams had a player that were banged up and they both came back and contributed,” said McLellan, who praised Clowe’s physical game as well as his hand in all three San Jose goals.
Los Angeles Head Coach Terry Murray expressed enthusiasm at the return of Williams, who reinvigorated the struggling L.A. offense on several shifts.
“He was very creative. He did the stuff that he’s been doing for us all year long,” Murray said. “He was able to get away from pressure, he was able to find people, he’s got good vision on the ice and he had definitely an impact on the game tonight.”
In net, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick stopped 42 shots and San Jose’s Antti Niemi came up with 33 saves with each goalie peppering in some spectacular sequences.
“It was a very good display of goaltending from both teams,” McLellan said.
After the opening faceoff, the Sharks attacked immediately when Dany Heatley drove the net unmolested to bang in a Clowe rebound. Logan Couture tied up Jack Johnson, leaving a key gap on the right side of the L.A. net. The goal, scored just 28 seconds in, set a record for the fastest goal in Sharks playoff history.
Devin Setoguchi tested Quick again with a hard shot and then a wraparound attempt that sputtered out to Dan Boyle for a point shot.
< div>Drew Doughty muscled Patrick Marleau off the puck but his second effort to finish his check in the corner earned him an interference penalty.
In the opening round of this bout between two units of power-play marksmen for San Jose and a dedicated array of penalty killers from Los Angeles, the P.K. triumphed.
“We just look to do the same things we’ve done all season long,” said the Kings’ top defensive defenseman Willie Mitchell. “If we do those things and stick to our strengths, we’re not worrying about what they’re doing, hopefully they can worry about what we’re doing more on the penalty kill.”
The Sharks responded with a kill of their own, erasing their disadvantage from a Jamal Mayers minor. The Kings’ famished power play failed to register a shot on goal.
Clowe visited the sin bin as well but the Kings again did not hit the San Jose net.
“The power play’s a tough thing, it’s very streaky, we all know that. You can score two out of three and then go for a 20-time stretch without scoring,” Williams said.
Kyle Clifford and Ben Eager, possibly their respective teams’ strongest pound-for-pound fighters, went at it in a fast-paced tilt in which both men threw heavy blows with little attention paid to defense.
“(Clifford) just likes to get in there and just throw bombs,” said Clifford’s linemate Wayne Simmonds, who said Clifford would likely be the toughest middleweight to handle on the L.A. roster.
The fight occurred following a hit from behind by Jarret Stoll on White, who left the game with his return promptly pronounced doubtful. After the game, McLellan
said White was “not feeling good” a result of the abrupt end to his first career playoff game after 401 regular-season contests. White notched a secondary assist on the Heatley goal, earning him his first career postseason point.
No penalty was called on the play, however the league is currently reviewing the play to consider the potential for disciplinary action. Stoll expressed contrition immediately after the game and said there was no malice intended on his part.
The first period concluded with a 1-0 edge for the Sharks. Los Angeles went without a single dangerous chance, while San Jose scored once and produced three more goalmouth scrambles. Despite the disparity in possession, shots and chances, the score remained tight.
The Kings put it in a vice when they got an equalizer on the power play from their captain Dustin Brown. Brown finished a two-on-one rush when he one-timed home a smooth pass from Williams. The Kings second-leading scorer Williams, outfitted with a shoulder harness, offered an immediate boost to a struggling power play.
Without White, the Sharks were forced to scramble for some nearly 55 minutes utilizing only five defensemen.
“I thought there was a time in the game where we lost momentum maybe because of it,” McLellan said. “We had long changes, we had some of our five defensemen trapped out there an awful long time in a couple icing situations. They felt that, they sensed it, they went after us.”
San Jose wasted little time in regaining the advantage. Doughty pinched for a big hit along the boards on his former youth hockey teammate Couture. He whiffed on the check, sending Couture in alone on Quick, who failed to stop a low shot that got through his pads.
Couture’s ill-advised, shorthanded shot that missed the net sent the Kings on the break that netted them their first goal.
“For Logan to come back and score after he missed the net was important for him as an individual as well as the team,” McClellan said.
Devin Setoguchi made a dazzling spin-o-rama move onto his backhand but Quick stuck with him to confidently deny his breakaway bid.
After a shot around the back of the San Jose net and a botched D-to-D exchange, a four-man battle for the puck ensued. Ryan Smyth engaged Boyle, then Douglas Murray leveled Smyth with a shoulder check. His aggressive play left no Shark left to play the puck, which squirted in front to Williams, who drew the Kings even again.
Los Angeles generated some sustained pressure late in the stanza and earned a 16-9 advantage in second-period shots on goal. They entered the second intermission deadlocked at two. They remained resilient after a rotten first frame.
“I don’t think there was anywhere to go but up, they outshot us 14-3 even though we had two power plays. I thought we stepped it up after that,” Williams said. “They came in with five D, we know that, so we tried to put as many pucks we could behind them and make their defensemen really work out there.”
The Kings made a significant lineup change, moving the recently-acquired Dustin Penner down from the first line to the fourth line. Penner said during the morning skate that his expectations for himself in the series were for marked improvement over his play down the stretch. Murray gave a very careful if not guarded assessment of Penner’s play as a King before the game.
He said afterward that he simply did not like some things going on during the top line’s shifts, which prompted the change. He had not decided on line combinations for game two yet.
Early in the third, Brad Richardson served Clifford a sterling chance on a velvet throw, only to have it denied by the right pillow of Niemi.
Jason Demers served Smyth a flying forearm near the boards. The hit happened in the neutral zone right in front of the linesman but neither of the referees called a penalty.
Extended pressure by the Sharks produced a strong opportunity on Setoguchi’s point-blank shot and on their next possession Kyle Wellwood tested Quick from in tight as well. The Kings’ Vezina candidate Quick quelled both San Jose surges.
After narrowly escaping a delay of game minor, Doughty’s offensive-zone tripping penalty left the Kings shorthanded with just 2:11 remaining.
Los Angeles held firm against a soft redirection by Joe Thornton and a lively wrister from Heatley. Another save on Pavelski and three clears erased the San Jose advantage.
“That’s what it’s been all year, the guys battle really hard on the P.K. and they did again tonight … They have a great power play with a lot of guys who can do some damage, so it was a big kill to push it into overtime,” Quick said.
Early in overtime, a strong cycle spread into a full-on assault when Simmonds hit Clifford with a pass that he one-timed from the high slot, creating a rebound for Richardson, who came within inches of ending the game.
“The three of us, we feed off each other well,” Simmonds said. “We all get in there and we’re all equally effective on that forecheck. When we got our legs going, I think it’s pretty tough to stop us down low.”
Quick stole the show mid-way through the extra frame as he sprawled to reject a pair of bids by Setoguchi and Thornton within a span of three seconds.
“He shined. He’s done exactly what he did all year for us. He’s cool, he’s calm, he makes huge saves at big times and he’s one of the best players on our team,” Williams said.
Marleau carried the puck with speed to beat Doughty up the ice and hammer a shot at Quick, who swallowed it whole to force a faceoff.
San Jose won the offensive-zone draw where Torrey Mitchell’s redirection and Kyle Wellwood’s follow-up bid were thwarted by Quick. Moments later, a
puck eluded Mitchell with an open net in front of him.
Quick’s heroics would not be enough as the Sharks won the game on the tally off the rush by Pavelski moments later.
“I got there. He just beat me. He made a pretty good shot. Obviously I wish I had made the save, and we could still be playing,” Quick said.
For Los Angeles, a near-unanimous underdog in the series, the focus remains on splitting this pair of games in San Jose to steal home-ice advantage in the series. Despite the burden of the loss, each King seemed to think there were positives to glean from their effort Thursday.
“We’ve shown we’re certainly not going to be a pushover,” Williams said.
“When everyone else puts the expectations extremely low on you, you just want to give them the middle finger and show them what you’re made of.”