SAN JOSE – It was a mistake that could have bothered defenseman Brad Stuart for a long, long time.
The Sharks had the early energy, and the lead, thanks to a power play goal by Dan Boyle when Stuart’s errant pass went directly to Tyler Toffoli. The Kings’ rookie, who’s having a strong series, deposited a backhand past Antti Niemi midway through the first period.
It was a bad unforced error on the 33-year-old defenseman. He might have been just a bit more relieved than his teammates when Logan Couture scored in overtime.
“You make a mistake, and all you can do is try not to let it affect the rest of your game,” Stuart said after Game 3. “You just hope the team pulls it out. It was a tight game. I’d like that back, but it happens. I just tried to put it behind me and not let it affect the rest of the game.”
The proof that it didn’t came shortly after, when Stuart threw the hit of the series on the Kings’ Justin Williams, lining him up in the neutral zone and plowing him over at the blue line with 3:26 left in the first.
It was suggested to Stuart that the hit resembled one thrown by his former teammate in Detroit, Niklas Kronwall.
“I learned from the master,” Stuart said. “It’s a play that I’ve seen him do quite a few times. The forward looks up, thinks he’s got some time, and you make your move. He didn’t see me coming until it was probably too late. I think it was a good hit.”
Stuart finished the night with five hits, second only to Tommy Wingels’ six, and had a team-high four blocked shots. He skated two minutes and 41 seconds on the penalty kill, even though the Sharks were shorthanded just twice.
Todd McLellan offered some postgame praise.
“He was a veteran player that’s won a Stanley Cup, and you could see that in him tonight,” McLellan said. “Physical, good on the penalty kill, and maybe even got better after the mistake. Those happen. Again, we’re fortunate to have him.”
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The Sharks will enjoy their first two-day break between playoff games before Tuesday’s Game 4. They’ll have a team meeting on Sunday and are not expected to skate until Monday.
“Tomorrow will be a day where we come to the rink and we always review the game and the things we did well and poorly,” McLellan said on Saturday night. “We’ll likely just address the team tomorrow and not skate. We’ll try and get healthy and recharge the battery. We’ll skate the next day and be ready to go again.”
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The coach was proud of his team’s effort following what could have been a devastating last-minute defeat in Game 2.
“You have to take the test. The mood in the locker room immediately was obviously down (after Game 2), but once we arrived at the rink the next day it was a lot better. … I thought the transition from being down, to ‘let’s get ready to go,’ was exceptional. The leaders did a good job, but you always have to take that test. You find out a lot about your team, and we obviously showed up to play tonight.”
Boyle said: “We felt we were the better team leaving L.A., and we were down 2-0. This time of year, being the better team out there doesn’t do you anything. You’ve got to win on the scoreboard. We felt we were the better team tonight again, but at the end of the day you’ve got to get the win. That’s what counts.”
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The Sharks have won four straight overtime games against the Kings in the playoffs, including three in their first round matchup in 2011. They’ve won nine of their last 10 playoff overtime games overall, and their last loss came in the 2011 Western Conference final against Vancouver in Game 5.
Antti Niemi won his eighth playoff overtime game in a Sharks sweater, surpassing Evgeni Nabokov’s franchise mark of seven. Eight of Niemi’s 14 Sharks playoff wins have come in overtime. He’s 11-2 in his career.
Couture’s goal, the first playoff OT winner in his career, was the fifth overtime power play goal of the NHL playoffs, setting a new league mark. Patrick Marleau also scored one in Game 4 against Vancouver, ending that series.