The San Jose Sharks were not going to admit they had to defeat their history as much as the Los Angeles Kings on Friday, April 22. Some new faces found their way to the photo list of stars attempting to rewrite the postseason narrative while sending home the two-time Stanley Cup champions.
The real effect ranges from necessary to meaningless depending on one’s perspective. Almost to a player, the Sharks offered cliched perspectives.
Yes, they are different teams as one would expect over two years. San Jose even has a different coaching staff.
Then again, half of the Sharks dressed for the 2016 Pacific Division semifinals were part of at some if not all of those games lost two years ago. Three of four Kings playing in this series were on the team that used that comeback to springboard their way to the 2014 Stanley Cup title.
After the game Friday, Brent Burns tried to get everyone to believe the only time anyone thinks about the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals heartbreak is all the times they get asked about it. So you want us to believe you do not think about the worst choke in major sports history when you are playing the team that did that to you and then kind of rubbed your face in it after winning the Stanley Cup?
Some players are actually new and were not part of the experience—goalie Martin Jones was even in the other dressing room for it. For anyone that went through it, thinking about it is inevitable.
Others being honest still took the cliche road of downplaying the importance of this win by pointing out nothing has been accomplished yet. San Jose’s playoff accomplishments have really only been met a couple times since the full-season lockout, and seven players left from the last trip to the Western Conference finals in 2011 would like to get more than half way to the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup before talking about exorcising any demons.
A few players at least admitted it meant they learned from the loss or that closing out this win was important given their opponent’s established capabilities. Only Logan Couture was refreshingly honest, as quoted by Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News among others:
Throughout the last couple years, things have been said by players on that team that to me I take as disrespectful, so it was nice to stick it back to them and beat them in this series. Even this series someone was saying on their team that they had us right where they wanted us. I wonder if they got us where they want us right now…
It should be noted that Couture’s feeling about the talk out of Los Angeles had to be driven in large part by comments of his friend Drew Doughty. The probable 2016 Norris Trophy winner had said after winning the 2014 Stanley Cup that he knew from looking at his first-round opponents they sensed the collapse, then said they had to be thinking about it after the one win this year.
The Sharks had to fight that past all the way to the final period, accomplishing what they narrowly avoided in the third period of the last game by fully surrendering this 3-0 lead. You can bet the symbolism of blowing 3-0 leads within two games after blowing a 3-0 series lead the last time these teams met was not lost on many involved.
One difference is this time it was the Kings that took one too many blue-line losses after the series started than they could withstand. They were clearly not as good this time around but showed plenty of savvy in coming back time and again to make this Pacific Division semifinals probably the most hotly-contested 4-1 series ever.
It only took 68 seconds for San Jose to get on the board: Couture passed the puck to Joonas Donskoi and then provided the screen that allowed the shot from the right-wing circle to go into the far corner past Jonathan Quick. Los Angeles then looked to be in big trouble after taking successive penalties 97 and 113 seconds later.
When the Sharks failed to play with any urgency and barely threatened to score on the two-man advantage, anyone not questioning their lack of killer instinct was ignoring history. However, the team put the failure behind it and kept pushing until Chris Tierney advanced the puck from Burns and shot from the same circle through another screen—this time provided by Tommy Wingels—over Quick’s shoulder 11:21 into the game to take a 2-0 lead over the Kings.
Just over four minutes after intermission, Couture got the puck to Joel Ward at the right-wing corner of the net. The veteran spun and sent a backhand pass to Matt Nieto to punch home from right in front of Quick.
The top line had been carrying San Jose and now was the only one without a score. Patrick Marleau then was hooked on a breakaway and got the penalty shot for a chance to put Los Angeles away.
The puck flipped on what turned out to be a weak attempt 5:31 into the second, making one wonder why teams do not start pushing for the option of taking the penalty. It sure would have been better for the Sharks, operating a power play that scored five goals in 21 chances and added another a second after a power play expired.
The Kings owned the rest of the period. Doughty finally got his first and only point of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs while logging over 29 minutes in every game with a little luck when Trevor Lewis shot the puck off a defender and Anze Kopitar 7:44 into the second to get it started.
The next score came on San Jose’s defensive breakdown and failed clear, allowing Jake Muzzin to find Jeff Carter alone in front of the net to roof a shot Jones had no chance to stop 3:42 later. Just over seven minutes later, Kris Versteeg stayed with the play after it looked like Kyle Clifford scored to put home the carom off the post and send the Los Angeles crowd into a frenzy.
The Kings took a penalty that cut their push short, but survived the rest of the period and began the third period with the first shot and three attempts. That is when Donskoi advanced a pass from Couture and made a game-changing play about four minutes in.
With Doughty all over him, Donskoi forced the puck to the net and circled behind it to be in position for Burns to push it back across. After the rookie scored, the Sharks played a shutdown defensive game that left only three more shots on Jones.
That did not mean resting on laurels, however. Burns moved the puck from Paul Martin to Joe Pavelski headed into the offensive zone. The captain gave Quick a slap-shot fake to get him moving and sent the puck under the all-world goalie for the score that essentially clinched the Pacific Division semifinal series with over seven minutes to go.
Quick only made two saves in the period while San Jose scored three times including the empty-net goal Melker Karlsson got after Patrick Marleau got the puck to him in the neutral zone. Los Angeles won most of the event summary statistics (41-29 faceoffs, 16-11 giveaways, 1-1 takeaways, 39-30 hits and 69-47 attempts) but was out-blocked 29-11, keeping it from getting as many shots through (22-28).
The Kings were the second team eliminated from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, joining the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks now await the winner of the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators for the Pacific Division finals.