LOS ANGELES – Marc-Edouard Vlasic pointed to Jeff Carter. Jeff Carter pointed to the stands. The referee pointed to the penalty box.
Already down a man due to Brad Stuart’s tripping penalty at 17:19 of the third period, the Sharks were forced to defend a five-on-three while nursing a 3-2 lead as Vlasic was sent off for a delay of game minor. They were unable to do it - on both penalties - and the result was a crushing 4-3 defeat that will be difficult to recover from.
The best-of-seven series shifts to the Bay Area with the Sharks down two games to none after Los Angeles’ two late power play goals stunned San Jose.
Vlasic didn’t want to discuss what he saw on the play, but Logan Couture didn’t mind. By rule, if the puck had hit any part of Carter’s body or stick, it would have resulted in a neutral zone faceoff.
Instead, the result was the tying and game-winning goals by the Kings.
“Pickles’ clearing attempt hits Carter in the shoulder, goes out of play, and they call it a penalty,” Couture said. “That’s tough.”
So, it did hit Carter?
“Yeah, yeah. You could see it from the bench,” Couture said.
Replays were inconclusive, but head coach Todd McLellan suggested that the he saw it the same way as Couture did after getting to the locker room and looking at video after the game.
“You go back and look at it, it looks like it changed direction,” McLellan said. “The one thing that I’ve learned, certainly through this playoffs, is it’s not going to do me any good to whine and moan and bitch about the referees. It’s not going to get us anywhere. We took some penalties, we needed to kill them, and we move on.”
Dustin Brown tied with 1:43 to go in regulation. Mike Richards put a shot on net, and Brown was among a number of Kings players searching for the rebound in front. He found it.
The Kings, who looked dangerous on the power play all night, sent the crowd home happy when Trevor Lewis deposited the rebound of a low wrist shot by Tyler Toffoli at 18:39, just 22 seconds after Brown's goal. Los Angeles finished 3-for-6 on the power play, including Drew Doughty’s marker in the second period.
Antti Niemi gave his perspective of both late goals.
“The five-on-three, they had two more guys in front of the net than us, so they were stronger at the rebounds,” Niemi said. “Pretty much the same thing on the last one. Just a low angle shot and they put it in front of the net, and it went in.”
The loss means that the Sharks wasted their three-goal effort against the impressive Jonathan Quick, who made 35 saves in a 2-0 shutout in Game 1. It was just the second time in eight playoff starts this season that Quick surrendered more than two goals.
At the very least, the Sharks can take some confidence from their offensive output.
“We know we can break through on him, we’ve done it before,” Joe Pavelski said. “We know we’re going to get our chances, we did, and guys finished. We had enough, again.”
Couture said: “It’s good to score goals, and we were able to get three. We scored some dirty goals, a nice goal, and we’ve just got to build off it.”
The nice goal was the first one, as Marleau finished off a pretty passing sequence at 9:47 of the second period, cutting the Kings’ lead to 2-1. Stuart’s slap shot at 14:21 of the second evened things up as the Sharks impaired Quick’s vision of the puck, while Vlasic’s go-ahead goal in the third came on a loose puck after Stuart’s shot missed the net and Tommy Wingels was causing havoc in the crease at 8:56.
The Sharks did a good job of clearing pucks away from Niemi after that when the goalie made the original save, and looked poised to even the series. The late penalties prevented that.
“We got three, and when you get to three you better beat this team,” McLellan said.
Now, the Sharks will probably have to win both games at home in order to have a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Game 3 is on Saturday at HP Pavilion.
“We’re a confident group,” Couture said. “We’ve played a lot of playoff games in here. We’ve had some deep runs. Get over this and get ready for Game 3. Our building is going to be loud, and we’ll be ready.”
Stuart said: “There’s two ways for us to respond. We can either fold up and say at least we tried, or we can say we can win.”
McLellan voiced confidence in his group.
“The one thing I like about our team, is maybe in the past this would have probably bothered our team a little more. But, with the group of guys we have, I think we can recover from this.”
If they can’t, the final moments of Game 2 will haunt them for a long, long time.