In a game combining one part Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, one part J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and one part Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, the San Jose Sharks amassed a staggering 52 shots on Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick Saturday night at the HP Pavilion. Fortunately for Los Angeles, 51 of them were absorbed or bounced off various body parts of Quick, and in the end, the Kings took game five in their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Sharks 3-1. With the win, Los Angeles closed to within one game, down just 3-2 in the series and carrying a measure of momentum going back home for game six.
Kings alternate captain Matt Greene, commenting on Quick’s franchise-record 51 saves and overall effort, called it “unbelievable” and said, “He’s been lights-out for us the whole year. A game like this, coming up here when they have all the momentum, you needed a big effort out of him, just like he’s been giving us all year. Obviously he did it tonight.”
Without top scorer Anze Kopitar (the picture on the right is either Gandalf the Gray or Kopitar, recuperating from surgery by herding sheep in his native Jesenice, Slovenia) and with top line right winger Justin Williams at half strength, the Kings have experienced serious top six power shortages during this series. While Sharks guns Ryan Clowe, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski have played their own version of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by being big fish and scoring eight of the team’s sixteen series goals, Los Angeles has had to rely on far more unlikely sources for their offense.
Unlikely source number one came in the form of Wayne Simmonds, the team’s third line right winger who tallied just thirty points in eighty games this year. After several early chances by San Jose which included a Torrey Mitchell shot smothered by Jonathan Quick, an adventurous puck clearing by Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi led to the Kings’ first goal. The clearing attempt was intercepted by Brad Richardson, with the puck slid laterally to defenseman Rob Scuderi and then fired on net. The shot was deflected not once, but twice – first by Kyle Clifford and then by Simmonds – and past Quick. Just 3:36 into the game, the Kings had jumped out on top 1-0.
Discussing the play of his line after an early San Jose onslaught, Simmonds said, “Our line, and I think the rest of our team, we kind of woke up a little bit. We realized, obviously, that we were in for one. We were lucky to score on our first shot, and we just tried to follow up from there.”
At this point, it was A Tale of Two Cities: San Jose firmly held sway with respect to the flow of the game, the chances and the general attack, but it was Los Angeles that was able to capitalize on the opportunities it had. While Quick was stuffing Patrick Marleau wristers and wrap-around attempts, Antti Niemi was flailing away badly. At 7:14 and after a Brad Richardson disruption of Dan Boyle’s carry out of his own zone, Simmonds and Clifford raced into the Sharks’ zone on a 2-1 odd-man rush. Simmonds snapped a shot that rebounded off the glove of Niemi and onto the stick of unlikely source number two Clifford, who rammed it home for the 2-0 lead. And then, not 1:30 later, long-dormant Dustin Penner resurrected himself after almost six weeks without a goal and became unlikely source number three. After two consecutive miscues by Niklas Wallin in his own zone, Kings forward Kevin Westgarth ended up with the puck, passed it to Penner in the slot who wristed it high blocker side and into the net for the 3-0 lead. With that, Niemi had saved just one of the first four shots he saw, and was quickly removed by San Jose coach Todd McLellan in favor of backup Antero Niittymaki.
Commenting on the goalie change, McLellan said, “By that point, we needed to change something,” he said. “We had 18 skaters dress, and we weren’t going to change any of them, so we changed the goaltender.”
Niittymaki restored order for San Jose and the good chances continued to favor the Sharks, including Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski slot wristers, but despite a 19-6 shot disparity in the first period, the Kings were ahead, 3-0. Kings coach Terry Murray put things succinctly by saying, “So you weather the storm in the early going and you come back and you get your opportunity and you cash in.” In the early going, that’s exactly what the Kings did.
The second period saw the pace pick up overall, with the shots relatively even at 15-12. San Jose scored the only goal after a Joe Thornton steal of the puck from Drew Doughty. Thornton skated around the Kings’ net, dropped the puck to Wallin who shot from a hard angle. Quick made the save, but the rebound was jammed back in by Patrick Marleau, cutting the lead to 3-1. One Fish.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, there would be no more fish tallies. Jonathan Quick was superb, stopping Dany Heatley, Kyle Wellwood, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau point blank shot attempts in the third, amongst other good efforts. Niittymaki was outstanding in his own right, turning aside all 18 shots he faced. All in all, the total shots favored San Jose 52-22, indicative of the siege the Sharks inflicted upon Jonathan Quick. When the horn sounded, San Jose was the equivalent of the orcs in the first Lord of the Rings: swarming, outnumbering, out-chancing, yet unable to score the ultimate victory.
“If we were expecting another miracle, we were kidding ourselves,” commented McLellan, in reference to game three’s miraculous comeback from an early 4-0 deficit. Quick made sure of that.
Game six will be played Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I’ve now characterized the Sharks as zombies (the lightning fast variety), orcs, gunslingers, and of course fish in various articles, including this one. Sharks fans better hope the team can close this series out soon. I’m running out of lethal swarming metaphors.