The San Jose Sharks took a 3-0 lead in the third period and looked on their way to a 3-1 Pacific Division semifinals lead Wednesday, April 20. Then they had to withstand a rally by the Los Angeles Kings that drew the game to 3-2 before the first television timeout and hold on for that win.
Make no mistake about it, San Jose would have been in full choke spiral had Los Angeles tied that score. Drew Doughty may not seem classy saying it, but he is probably the only one being honest. Both dressing rooms understand which team has been more successful in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Kings have the last two of the three series between these Pacific Division rivals that includes becoming the fifth team in major sports history to win a seven-game series after falling behind 3-0 the last time these teams met. They also have the only two Stanley Cups in either franchise’s history all in the last four postseasons, during which the only series they lost was the 2013 Western Conference finals that followed the lockout-shortened season.
The Sharks had no series wins in that time and a 7-12 record coming into the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs over that time. Only four postseason teams finished with fewer points in the regular season.
To add to the sense of doom, San Jose had only won 37 of its last 85 home games dating back to that 2014 Pacific Division semifinals choke. With all of that, the momentum of scoring two goals in under four minutes and over 13 to go, a Los Angeles score may have seemed inevitable.
Yet the Sharks took faceoff after faceoff in their own end, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. When they lost, they defended until they could get the puck out and/or force another faceoff. When the won, sometimes they got the puck out and sometimes they iced it before repeating the process.
San Jose had just three shots in seven attempts after Patrick Marleau’s goal while withstanding 11 and 21, respectively. In the end, it endured in part because there are only so many times an opponent can score through a screen or deflection in one period against a good defense.
The game was tight from the start. Neither team was able to get an edge in the first period, with no score and almost even event summary statistics. However, the Sharks were clearly the better team in the second period and drew three penalties, cashing in on the first two.
Just over two minutes after intermission, Joel Ward got the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and delayed as if to shoot before feeding Brent Burns in the other circle for the one-timer blast. A little over seven minutes later, Joe Thornton moved the puck from Marleau from behind the net to Joe Pavelski for another one-timer goal right in front of goalie Jonathan Quick.
San Jose held a 13-8 shots advantage in the period to maintain the 2-0 lead into intermission, then drew another penalty 94 seconds into the third. Six seconds after Thornton won the faceoff, Logan Couture sent a Burns pass toward the net that was blocked, but Marleau backhanded the rebound from the slot to the top shelf six seconds into the power play.
The Sharks had three goals in 4:24 seconds of power play. The Kings finally stopped taking penalties and pushed back with their play.
Los Angeles needed just 69 seconds to respond to Marleau’s goal. Kris Versteeg stole the puck and fed Luke Schenn for a shot that bounced off Trevor Lewis in the crease. Martin Jones was interfered with on the play but the goal was upheld because Burns forced the contact.
Almost four minutes later, Anze Kopitar moved the puck from Marian Gaborik to Schenn for a shot through traffic and San Jose’s white-knuckled 13:16 began in earnest. Still, it was the third win in four one-goal games in which the opposition was probably outplayed.
The push from there on gave the Kings the edge statistically (28-29 faceoffs, 13-17 giveaways, 6-7 takeaways, 46-35 hits, 28-29 shots, 66-58 attempts, 18-25 blocks), but the Sharks owned over half the game. Both teams know that this series is not over until the fourth game is won, and Pavelski was asked about whether the team hanging on was an example of getting better in key moments he had declared a focus this spring:
Yeah, for sure. You know, it was a little closer than we probably would like, but it’s a little adversity and the guys handled it well.