Never mind the saying—the fourth time was the charm for the San Jose Sharks Monday, March 28. After losing three straight times at home with an opportunity to clinch a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs, they qualified after a regulation loss by the Arizona Coyotes and then broke a three-game home losing streak with a win over the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings.
San Jose’s advantage among the photo list of stars was just enough in a game that the event summary shows could have gone either way: 31-20 faceoffs and 18-6 takeaways but 29-17 giveaways, 46-44 hits but a deficit of 55-70 in attempts. Fortunately most of the SAP Center crowd, a 28-17 edge in blocks (40 percent of attempts) resulted in just a 31-32 deficit in shots on goal for a 1.14 shots per block ratio.
Los Angeles blocked a solid 30.9 percent of attempts but allowed 1.82 shots per block. Despite one more power play, the guests registered the same single man-advantage goal on five shots as their hosts.
The Kings got the first goal of the game before the midpoint of the first period after Justin Braun committed a penalty. He was the best player on the ice after that.
Alec Martinez got the puck from Brayden McNabb and backhanded it to Vincent Lecavalier. The once-discarded veteran gathered and got a wrist-shot deflection from Brent Burns that thus beat Martin Jones.
Braun made sure Los Angeles held a lead for only 3:45 of the game. He started by skating a pass from Melker Karlsson into a good shooting lane and beating Jonathan Quick. Tommy Wingels got the secondary assist after jarring the puck loose with his hit.
After a Burns shot 7:55 into the second period was deflected by Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski before beating Quick, the Kings started to take over. Eventually, Tyler Toffoli reversed the puck behind the net to Milan Lucic for a feed to Lecavalier. The shot just trickled through Jones—something that Braun must have taken note of because he was ready for it in the third period.
The Sharks survived the rest of the period and Logan Couture followed an earlier breakaway with an odd-man rush in the final seconds. His one-timed shot gave Quick one of the best saves of the 2015-16 NHL season—the two-time Stanley Cup champion lunged back across and got just enough of the puck with his outstretched paddle to deflect it into the crossbar.
San Jose came out firing in a competitive final frame fitting of two bitter Pacific Division rivals. Joonas Donskoi returned from injury just in time for this game against Los Angeles and drew a penalty on Jeff Carter 4:17 in.
Ten seconds into the power play, Burns let loose a shot that Quick saved. Pavelski whacked at the loose puck that then kicked out to Joe Thornton for a shot over the sprawling goalie.
That was a lead Braun had to preserve almost four minutes later when a Drew Doughty shot trickled through Jones. Anze Kopitar was right there for an easy finish if not for a timely and strong tying up of the center’s stick.
Finally, Wingels made a play behind the net that provided insurance, getting the puck back out in front of the net off the skate of Karlsson crashing the net and in; it was upheld in a Toronto review. With 19 seconds left, Braun capped off the scoring after getting the puck from Dainius Zubrus in the defensive zone and banking it off the boards into the empty net.
The Sharks were guaranteed no worse than a third-place finish in the Pacific Division and thus a Stanley Cup-playoff berth once the Coyotes lost, but going in with a win over the rival Kings is sweeter. The gap between the teams is still five points with just six games left for both in the 2015-16 NHL season, but it is important to win big games even if they do not add up to reaching a goal.
The last time both teams were in the playoffs was when Los Angeles stormed back from a 3-0 San Jose Pacific Division semifinals lead en route to winning the 2014 Stanley Cup. By taking the 2015-16 NHL season series (and getting the first home win in it), a chance for revenge could be on the April calendar.