The San Jose Sharks faced their first Stanley Cup playoffs elimination game in 13 months on Sunday, May 26.
They played better against the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings than they generally have in those games under coach Todd McLellan—their 2-4 record includes an overtime win. But he knows they will have to play better to give the Stanley Cup champions their first playoff loss at home in over a year:
Home team wins, back and forth, it’s time for us to get there and try and change the story. Obviously, we’re going to have to play a much better game than we did the last time in that building. But they earned the right for home ice. It’s our job to take it away from them.
It is no mistake that the home team has now won every game of this Western Conference semifinals series. The Sharks and Kings tied the Chicago Blackhawks for the most points earned at home with 39. Los Angeles has not had to bear even one NHL regular season loss since March 23—a 13-game streak that includes six wins in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
If not for some home bounces, this series would be over. The Kings had a clear that created the two-man advantage for the Sharks miss the glass by an inch, hit three posts and a crossbar without any for the hosts and had contact on goalie Jonathan Quick not get called.
Darryl Sutter correctly dismissed such complaints. His goalie could have also been called for striking back over the last two games in San Jose.
They lost because of the breaks dominant home teams like these Pacific Division rivals often get. All three delays of game in this Western Conference semifinals were committed by the road team and all three resulted in scores for the home team in games they won by a single goal.
The Sharks did not play better for the game. They held a 26-25 edge in shots because they blocked 20 shots to 13 for their guests. The Kings had six more attempts (56-50) even though they won fewer draws (22-31), and still had a 41-22 edge in hits.
The extra time they spent on the attack was because of their hits and San Jose giveaways (14-6, though Los Angeles did have an 8-3 deficit in takeaways). But that physical play may have had to do with the extra three penalties taken.
The first period start was partially because of and partially the cause of three penalties to the Kings. The delay of game came into the picture after Mike Richards was already in the box for tripping.
About a minute into the two-man advantage, Joe Pavelski got Matt Greene down to a knee to try to block his entry or shot. Joe Thornton took the feed that came between the defenders legs and buried it from the far side just in front of the goal line before Quick could move over to stop him.
It was the first time San Jose looked good early in a period only to scramble to hold onto a one-goal lead as it ended. It was a pattern that followed in both other periods.
The margin between the 2012 and 2013 Vezina Trophy finalists was established over that 18-minute span that followed. Quick faced just two shots in 16:22, while Niemi turned aside 10. When the Sharks finally pushed back with four shots over the next 1:38, it was their goalie who got the scoring play going.
Niemi advanced the puck to Scott Hannan, who shoveled it to the offensive blue line. T.J. Galiardi scooped it up from the right wing and skated to the edge of the circle on Quick’s glove side. With his eyes fixated on teammates to pass to, he pulled the trigger and shot the puck between Rob Scuderi’s legs into the near-side corner.
Chances are the 2012 Vezina Trophy finalist did not get a good look at the shot. However, he had a view of the puck before the shot, and it is a save he has made the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Whatever the reason, however well he still played and has for the entire Western Conference semifinals, San Jose’s goalie was better and got the win. The only goal he gave up was late in the second, as Dustin Brown gathered a puck from behind the goal line and shot it off his back just before he could seal the near post.
There were many good performances in this game, but three stood out:
- Niemi was clearly the best player on either team. He only had to make two highlight-reel saves, but turned aside 24 of 25 (.960 save percentage), controlled rebounds, had no chance on the one he gave up and was technically tied as his team’s scoring leader.
- Thornton scored the first goal in over 100 minutes against Quick on one of his two shots (four attempts) and was on the ice for the other goal. He had two giveaways but four takeaways while winning eight of 15 draws.
- Dan Boyle had an assist even though he only got one of six shot attempts on net. He also had one hit, and his six blocks were four more than any other player on either team.