SAN JOSE – No one in the Sharks’ dressing room publicly predicted that their team would prevail in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Kings, but the head coach and the captain must have shared a crystal ball at some point before San Jose’s most important game of the season. On the brink of elimination, the Sharks beat the Kings, 2-1 at HP Pavilion on Sunday night, forcing a Game 7 at Staples Center (Tuesday, 6 p.m. NBCSN).
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks stay alive]
On Saturday, when asked about the team’s ineffective power play in Game 5, Todd McLellan said: “If we can operate at 20 percent tomorrow, that’s one out of five, I think we’d be pretty excited with that, considering they’re an elite penalty killing group.”
That’s exactly what they did. San Jose’s five-on-three goal by Joe Thornton gave the Sharks the lead at 6:09 of the first period, extending the trend of the winning team scoring first in every game of the series.
As for Thornton, he had a message before the game for his linemate, TJ Galiardi, whose wrist shot through the legs of defenseman Robyn Regehr in the second period held up as the game-winner. It was Galiardi’s first goal of the playoffs.
“Jumbo has been telling me the whole time, just be patient,” Galiardi said. “You’re going to score when the boys need it the most. He was a bit of a fortune teller.”
The result is the franchise’s eighth Game 7. Although the home team has won each of the first six games, if history is any indication, attempting to foretell what happens when a series goes the distance is an exercise in futility. In their history, the Sharks are 5-2 in Game 7.
[RATTO: Sharks mindful of playoff subtleties]
The Sharks improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs, but have lost all three games of the series at Staples Center, including a 3-0 decision in Game 5 last Thursday.
“It’s followed the script. … It’s up to us to get there and try to change the story,” McLellan said. “We’re going to have to play a much better game than we did last time in that building. They earned the right for home ice, it’s our job to take it away from them.”
Logan Couture said: “It’s one game, man. This is what we play for, right? It’s exciting. We’ve got to win in their building, but Game 7. ... It’s going to be fun.”
Back to the power play. The Sharks scored three of their four goals with a man advantage in winning games three and four by identical 2-1 margins, but looked disastrous in Game 5, registering just four shots in six minutes and failing to establish any sort of momentum.
When Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar left the ice on minor penalties just 14 seconds apart, the Sharks took advantage when Pavelski waited, waited, and waited some more before finding Thornton on a feed through the slot for an easy conversion at 6:09 of the opening period.
“It feels like ages, but Pav just made a beautiful play,” Thornton said of the delay before the pass. “Everybody in the building thought he was going to shoot, and, great pass. Open net, just got to put it in.”
The Sharks survived a push by the Kings after Los Angeles killed off the remaining time on the Kopitar minor. The Kings fired eight unanswered shots on Antti Niemi before the intermission, but the Sharks’ goalie stopped them all and was aided by the Kings hitting three goal posts.
Galiardi’s goal came at 4:10 of the second on a wrist shot from the circle, short side and high past Jonathan Quick.
“I wanted to get it up, that was the biggest thing,” he said. “It’s one of those things that when you put it through a d-man (Regehr), it’s tough for the goalie to pick it up.”
The Sharks could have taken a commanding lead when Justin Williams poked Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the face a few minutes after Galiardi’s goal, giving them a four-minute power play. Instead, they managed just two shots over that span, and Dustin Brown’s goal cut the lead in half at 13:53 of the middle frame.
“We would have liked to do something more on our four-minute power play in the second. It almost cost us,” Couture said.
The Kings gained some momentum after Brown’s goal, but the Sharks escaped the second clinging to a one-goal lead.
The third period was perhaps the Sharks’ best, as they refused to sit back on the lead and attacked the Kings’ defensive zone. In Game 4, the Sharks were outshot 14-2 in the third period while nursing the same lead.
Not this time.
Dan Boyle said: “We did a good job of applying some pressure in the third. Take some pressure off the d-men and the goalie. It was a good, quality third period.”
“I thought we played a solid third period, and took some of their strengths away from them,” McLellan said. “It’s still a pretty even game. No matter how high we elevate our game, they’re right there. I don’t see it changing for Game 7 now.”
In NHL history, home teams that have won each of the first six games are just 8-8 in Game 7. The Sharks will attempt to give road teams a plus-.500 record on Tuesday night in a series that has been every bit as even as the split indicates.
“We really don’t have anything to lose. We’re going to play Game 7 against the Stanley Cup champs in their building,” McLellan said. “We look forward to that challenge.”