The San Jose Sharks had to battle bad breaks, past postseason failures and the Los Angeles Kings in the opening game of the Pacific Division semifinals. The top pictured stars helped truly earn a league-leading 29th road win since the start of 2015-16 NHL season Thursday, April 14.
Road, sweet road. This is why the Sharks worked so hard to get that road-ice advantage for the Stanley Cup playoffs, playing casually for spurts in all those home games and giving up goals in bunches—two or more consecutive in under seven minutes of play in 13 games—to finish third in the Pacific Division.
Meanwhile, only the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings finished with more road wins in NHL history. Only five teams in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs would get the chance to play in San Jose more than at home.
On the road, the Sharks are resilient. They withstood an incorrect whistle stopping one goal, another that was probably but inconclusively stopped by Norris Trophy-favorite Drew Doughty, two allowed that bounced off defenders, s shorthanded goal and a questionable call that helped the Kings tie the game early in the second period.
Then San Jose had to withstand a 45-second barrage starting with 1:05 to go during which Los Angeles had Jonathan Quick pulled and got off three shots in eight attempts. Getting nine of the last 10 shots and over twice as many attempts in the third period (25-11) gave the home team evened out the event summary statistics somewhat: 27-32 faceoffs, 20-8 giveaways, 4-2 takeaways, 36-32 hits, 24-23 shots, 58-57 attempts and 10-15 blocks.
Despite the low save percentages, both Quick and former protege Martin Jones played well overall and had multiple highlight-reel saves but were victims of bad breaks such as those above or front-net battles lost by defenders. These resulted in three lead changes, with the Kings spending 3:30 in the lead and the Sharks just 40 seconds until the game-winning goal 17 seconds into the third period.
Ironically, the game that had seven goals on 35 shots in 40:17 turned into a defensive battle without a goal on just 12 more shots over the final 19:43. A game that started out with San Jose getting some bad breaks ended with Los Angeles missing multiple shots on grade-A chances to tie in the third period.
It also started with the Kings getting the first goal in the first three minutes. Anze Kopitar hit Justin Braun to help keep the puck in the zone and the Sharks were caught with too many defenders committed to the right-wing boards. Tanner Pearson got the puck to Milan Lucic who fed Jake Muzzin weakside.
Muzzin tried to skate wide of a sprawling Jones and then throw the puck back to the crease from behind the line, but it went off Tomas Hertl’s skate and in. That score came 2:53 into the game, but San Jose did not slump.
Not three minutes later, Tommy Wingels drew a penalty on Kopitar and the Sharks needed just 39 seconds to cash in. Joe Thornton’s pass to Logan Couture in the high slot was touch-passed along to Brent Burns near the blue-line center, sent to captain Joe Pavelski just back of the left-wing circle’s inner edge for the one-timer blast.
That held up through the hard-hitting first period between Pacific Division rivals, but things turned offensive after intermission. Joel Ward won a faceoff back that Burns snapped in through traffic 6:50 in but then was called for a penalty the San Jose bench did not like on the next draw. Just 38 seconds later, Lucic had moved the puck from Kopitar to Jeff Carter before a centering pass appeared to deflect off both defensemen and Jones before going in.
With Doughty in the box for hooking Ward in the final five minutes of the second, Los Angeles took the lead on an unassisted goal by Trevor Lewis. It was the kind of play the two-time Stanley Cup champions made in their 2014 Pacific Division semifinals comeback, but this opponent was different.
The Sharks got a goal one second after Doughty returned to the ice, with Ward managing to get his tied-up stick on the rebound of a Joonas Donskoi shot in front of the crease so that Hertl could wrist it home. It made up for a goal he scored after a whistle when the officials incorrectly thought the puck was touched by a stick above the goal mouth.
The Kings then were called for icing after winning the initial faceoff of the third period. Pavelski started and finished the final scoring play of the Pacific Division semifinals opener.
Winning the faceoff eventually gathered by Justin Braun, he got the puck back behind the net and spun around it for the third wraparound attempt by the Sharks. The third time was indeed the charm, as Pavelski used the body force of Kopitar on him as a fulcrum to gain force coming around to Quick’s right and whip a shot to the other side just inside Doughty’s stick.
It turned out to be Pavelski’s eighth game-winning goal in 82 career Stanley Cup playoff games. While it looked like Thornton touched the puck, he only drew the defenders to open up Braun’s pass on the final score—marking the first time he had not scored in a San Jose win since Nov. 22, 2015.
Of course, San Jose cannot breathe any sigh of relief given the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals started out with three wins. Getting three more could start to erase that sting.