LOS ANGELES- The Los Angeles Kings have gone from circling their wagons to circling the drain in just over 100 minutes of action.
Los Angeles lost 6-3 to the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at Staples Center. The Kings have now been outscored 12-4 over the last 102:25 in the series.
That uncharacteristically poor defense by the Kings spurred a lengthy closed-door meeting in their locker room after the game.
“Terry gave us a good speech, he’s not happy with us and all of us in here are not happy with each other either,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “Two games and twelve goals, that’s something we never do and we gotta clean it up.”
The oft-maligned San Jose captain Joe Thornton began the evening doubled over in discomfort after a spear from Dustin Brown. He concluded his night by scoring the game-winning goal, after which he blew kisses to a Sharks fan wearing his jersey.
“It’s a good night, eh?” Thornton said.
Thornton might as well have been kissing the Kings’ season goodbye. The Sharks now own a three games to one lead in the series as it shifts back to San Jose for Saturday’s game 5.
Thornton explained the offensive explosion from San Jose in simple terms.
“I think we just found our legs to be honest with you,” he said. “For whatever reason, we’re going to the net with a purpose and we’re shooting to score, not just to shoot.”
Early in the game, the Kings got an incredible shift from Brad Richardson’s line where he, Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds hemmed the Sharks in and hit the net four times. They accounted for Los Angeles’ first four shots on goal of the night.
If there were doubts about San Jose goalie Antti Niemi after two suspect performances, he erased them along with a great chance from Clifford with a monstrous kick save.
“Antti has done that all year, he’s done that throughout his career,” Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s human so he’ll have good days and bad days. The thing about him is that he’s determined to come back with a good one.”
The momentum from that shift was quelled when the Los Angeles captain Brown headed to the penalty box for slashing as Thornton skated to the bench for attention from the trainer. Thornton, among others, described the play as a spear. He returned to the game promptly.
Matt Greene picked up another slashing minor, which was almost over before it began as Joe Pavelski pushed the puck wide of an open net during the delayed penalty’s six-on-four stretch.
The Sharks went to work five-on-three, where Jonathan Quick stymied a sterling bid by Dany Heatley. Quick then made a huge save on a Dan Boyle slap shot with Pavelski setting a strong screen in front.
Los Angeles sustained the lengthy two-man advantage, killing both penalties. All told, Quick made six saves, four of which were beauties.
“He’s an incredible goalie and we definitely have to work for our goals right now,” Thornton said.
Not to be outdone, Niemi committed larceny with his glove while sprawling to stop a strong shot by Simmonds. Ever active offensively, Simmonds and his linemates drew a hooking call against Boyle on the play.
The Kings drew another minor 1:47 later but failed to score with the extended advantage.
Quick came up huge again, this time robbing Patrick Marleau’s textbook one-time bid off an odd-man rush.
Scoreless at the end of the first, both goalies shined brightly. Quick stayed particularly sharp, as he seemed to make stunning saves faster than observers could tweet updates about them.
In the second, a tiff between the unlikely participants Doughty and the fourth-line center Scott Nichol put both teams down a man.
Coach Murray described the penalties and the ensuing four-on-four situation as the turning point in the game.
“You just don’t want to lose your top defenseman to a player of that stature,” Murray said. “If you’re going to lose him to a Thornton or a Marleau, then you’ll take that exchange, but that was very costly.”
During the four-on-four skating, Brown fanned on a prime chance with Jack Johnson pinching on the play. The puck squirted past Brown, keying a San Jose rush. The Kings forced the play wide but Ryane Clowe’s ostensibly harmless attempt to center the puck found pay dirt off the stick of Alec Martinez as both he and Johnson attempted to collect the puck for a clear.
Seventy-four seconds later, Jason Demers made it 2-0 off a one-time pass from the rookie standout Logan Couture. The play broke down as Couture had a shot attempt blocked. He recollected the puck for a silky feed to the activated defenseman Demers.
Los Angeles held strong for 3:27, but a nifty two-man play between Ian White and Couture sent a shot searing off the glove of Quick to be pushed home at the goal line by Clowe.
“Nichol, give him credit, he’s the reason why they won tonight,” Murray said. “They scored two goals (four-on-four) and then they end up scoring a goal on the double-minor. Greene’s in the box, so that’s three goals where Nichol’s play is directly responsible.”
The Kings called an uncharacteristic 30-second timeout, as their coach Terry Murray generally prefers to keep his timeout in his back pocket for the closing moments of games.
It paid off when a sharp-angle shot by Ryan Smyth nicked the glove of Niemi, leaving the puck in front where Richardson wrapped around astutely and tapped in Los Angeles’ first goal of the evening.
After killing off Justin Williams’ offensive-zone tripping penalty, the Kings drew within a goal. Williams threw the puck in front where it deflected in off Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s stick.
In an odd bit of symmetry, a lingering rebound off a glove save and a centering attempt off a defenseman’s stick each accounted for one goal a side.
“I think we each scored one on our own net tonight. It’s that time of year where strange plays happen,” coach McLellan said. “The more that you get the puck to the net the better opportunity you have for that strange play going your way.”
The second intermission arrived with the score 3-2 in favor of San Jose.
In a series where it had seemed that little has carried over from game to game, the second period was once again a difficult one for the Kings despite a late surge from their side. Devin Setoguchi, who scored the overtime game-winner in game 3, addressed the notion of momentum from his team’s historic four-goal comeback.
“There was a little bit, but we knew there we’re gonna be desperate,” he said. “It was a good first period, everyone had chances. We settled it down and we got a couple. We just never looked back, we kept pushing forward, building and getting better as the game went on.”
The Sharks doubled their lead early in the third when a strong fore-checking effort resulted in a goal for Thornton, who had stealthily crept to the net. Thornton blew kisses to the crowd during the celebration, which he later said were aimed at a Sharks fan who sported his No. 19 jersey.
A moment later, a clean offensive-zone faceoff win turned into an insurance marker for the Sharks. Pavelski‘s backhand shot from the right slot beat Quick glove side to push the San Jose lead to three. Faceoff success and overall puck security have been weak areas for the Kings as the series has progressed.
“I really liked out compete to get back to make it 3-2. And then, whatever happened in the third period with giveaways, turnovers, lost faceoffs, that’s sometimes a hard one to explain,” Murray said.
Thornton’s whirling maneuver in the corner allowed him to center the puck for an open Setoguchi, who was robbed of a goal by the quick stick of Willie Mitchell.
A stunning series of passes left Brown with an open net during a Kings power play but his one-time bid missed high, ascending over Niemi’s cage.
Torrey Mitchell piled on another tally. He leapt to avoid Demers’s wrist shot, which was nearly controlled by Doughty. Mitchell found the loose puck and pounded it past Quick to gain a four-goal advantage.
Alexei Ponikarovsky got the goal back for the Kings. Four Sharks swarmed on Kevin Westgarth at the right-wing boards. The puck was dug loose by Trevor Lewis, who fed a wide-open Johnson at the left point. Johnson’s laser was deflected home by Ponikarovsky.
A late five-on-three advantage left Brown on the doorstep for a backhand bid but a sliding pad save by Niemi stonewalledhim once more.
“I had some good looks today and didn’t get it in. I gotta find ways to put those in the net and we just gotta get back at it,” Brown sad.
The end of the game saw three game misconducts–to Nichol, Simmonds and Westgarth–but no fisticuffs. Perhaps the most contentious play was Dany Heatley’s tripping minor against Martinez, which sent Martinez careening toward the boards as he went to retrieve the puck.
“I think they lost their composure at the end,” coach Murray said. “Heatley’s doing a slewfoot on Martinez. That’s a dangerous play as he’s going back for the puck. That’s a very dangerous play. That’s where you break your leg, that’s where you blow your knee out. I hate that play, that’s a gutless move in my mind. A gutless move.”
Although left winger Scott Parse may be nearing a return from the hip injury that has sidelined him for nearly the entire season and the skilled Swede Oscar Moller remained available to the Kings, Murray would not commit to any lineup changes.
“I’m playing what I got. (The Kings’ leading scorer Anze) Kopitar’s not coming back, guys. He’s got a broken leg,” he said.
With the game behind them, Los Angeles clings to one last shot to survive in the quest for hockey’s ultimate prize. In order to accomplish that, they must win three straight, starting with game 5 in San Jose Saturday.
“They’re a tough team to play and right now they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “But we should be a tough team to play against because there’s no tomorrow for us. If we lose it’s the season so we have to go there to win a hockey game and expect nothing else”