LOS ANGELES – The Sharks’ game plan was simple. Survive an early and expected push from the defending Stanley Cup champions without any damage, and play a hard-working, simple and effective road game from there in the critical Game 5 at Staples Center on Thursday night.
They accomplished the first part. The latter was a decisive failure.
The Kings retook the lead in their second round playoff series with the Sharks, three games to two, by virtue of a 3-0 shutout win. From the outset, Los Angeles was a faster, crisper, harder hitting and flat out better team than the visiting Sharks, who will have to win at home in Game 6 on Sunday to keep their season alive. The home team has won each of the first five games.
“Game 5, coming into their building, they were going to have a hard push. We talked about that before – the 10-minute game and the 50-minute game,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They came hard right off the bat, but we got through that without getting scored on. The rest of the night, the other 50 minutes, we weren’t very good. Moving forward, maybe that’s a good thing, because we’ve got a lot of things to improve on. Need a better effort from a lot of people.”
Logan Couture said: “Our best players need to be our best players. Myself included, we were bad tonight, and that’s the reason we lost. We’re not going to win if our best players aren’t our best players, so we need to step up.”
That was most evident on the power play, which has been awful in the three games in Los Angeles. The Sharks are a combined 0-for-10 with a man advantage in games one, two and five, and managed just three shots on goal in six minutes of power play time on Thursday.
San Jose essentially relies on its loaded up top unit to score on the advantage, as it has scored all 10 of the Sharks’ postseason power play goals. That five-some had trouble even setting up in the Kings’ zone.
Joe Thornton, one of the five, couldn’t explain it.
“It kind of looked like it was a little bit nervous for some reason. I don’t know why,” he said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t have the poise on the power play. If our power play is going good you can see guys get some confidence. When it doesn’t you see guys get down, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Couture was more succinct, calling it “garbage.”
He added: “Passes weren’t on, guys weren’t shooting the puck, the breakout was off, timing was off. There’s 25 things I could tell you that weren’t good."
The Kings outhit the Sharks 24-12 in the first period and had about a half a dozen scoring chances while keeping the Sharks from getting any sustained pressure. They didn't score, though, until Anze Kopitar’s first of the series at 18:08 of the second gave them the 1-0 lead. The Sharks were still very much in the game at the second intermission, though, trailing 1-0. Los Angeles’ second goal was a backbreaker, coming on what was a preventable and senseless penalty.
TJ Galiardi’s goaltender interference on Jonathan Quick at 18:50 of the second, when he hit the goalie in the crease, carried over into the third. The Sharks winger was stepping out of the box just after Trevor Lewis beat Thornton on an offensive zone draw, and saw Slava Voynov’s shot beat Antti Niemi through a screen in the opening minute of the third period. It was officially an even-strength goal, but it might as well have been on the power play.
Galiardi, who on Wednesday suggested that Quick was embellishing contract in order to draw calls, talked about the penalty.
“He got his call tonight,” Galiardi said. “I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to know if there’s any contact at all, they’re going to call it. They made us pay right after the penalty expired. That’s on me.”
McLellan had no qualms with the whistle.
“It was a good call. Absolutely, goaltender interference,” he said.
For Quick, it was his third postseason shutout and second of the series, but McLellan suggested it wasn’t all that difficult.
“I didn’t think we tested him a lot tonight,” he said. “There were a number of goalies in the league that could have performed that way tonight. Maybe his best save was his last one on [Joe] Pavelski coming across the crease when we had the goaltender pulled. Other than that, he didn’t have to work hard.”
The Kings, who scored just two goals in their two losses at HP Pavilion, completely rearranged their forward lines for Game 5. It seemed to have the desired effect as Los Angeles outshot the Sharks for the first time in the series, 29-24.
“Their desperation level, in my opinion, went up,” McLellan said. “That was the biggest change. Their lines played well. Our lines can play better.”
The Sharks, who are 4-0 in the postseason at home and lost just twice there in regulation in the regular season, will have to play better than in Game 6 in order to force a decisive Game 7.
“We’ve got to be confident,” Couture said. “The season’s on the line, and we’re playing for our lives. I expect to see a desperate team. I expect our best players to be way better, myself included.”
Galiardi said: “We’ve done our job at home all series, all playoffs, and pretty much all season. Nothing is going to change when we get back.”
If Galiardi is right, the Sharks will give themselves a good chance to return to Los Angeles on Tuesday night. In that case, just about everything will have to change from their effort and execution here in Game 5.