SAN JOSE – There’s a very strong possibility that the Sharks and Kings will play each other in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If that happens, the Sharks’ front office may want to order 17,562 seatbelts for rapid installation.
In what can only be described as the nastiest, most physical and downright entertaining game of the short season, San Jose captured a 3-2 shootout win against its rival to the south. The Kings (24-14-5, 53 points) still remain in fourth place in the Western Conference, directly ahead of the fifth place Sharks (23-13-7, 53 points) by virtue of more regulation/overtime wins.
[RECAP: Sharks 3, Kings 2 (SO)]
San Jose scored twice in the second period to take a 2-0 lead but the Kings responded before the intermission to tie it up. Raffi Torres was the surprising hero in the shootout, as he was the only one of six players to convert on his opportunity.
But, that brief summary doesn’t do the game justice. There were bone-jarring hits (Dustin Penner drilling Joe Thornton into the glass, face first); amazing saves (Antti Niemi gloving Mike Richards’ shot on a Kings power play in the second period, and stopping Jeff Carter late in the third and again in overtime alone in front of the net); and scrum after scrum between two teams that noticeably dislike one another.
“It’s fun to play those kinds of games,” said Brent Burns, who had a goal and an assist to lead the Sharks’ offense. “You always hear coaches say it’s a man’s game. It comes down to the end here, every point is big, and it’s fun to play those games.”
TJ Galiardi, who scored a goal and along with Burns and Joe Thornton composed the Sharks’ most effective line of the night, said: “It must have been pretty exciting for the fans, back and forth. It was wild. That extra point is huge for us right now. We’re chasing these guys and we want that four spot, everyone knows how good we’ve been at home this year.”
The Sharks improved to 15-1-5 at HP Pavilion.
In the shootout, Todd McLellan shockingly chose Torres to take part in the tiebreaker after Logan Couture and Dan Boyle missed the net on their chances. At the other end, Niemi stopped Carter while Anze Kopitar missed the mark as the shootout remained 0-0.
The newcomer may have been the most disliked player in the league by Sharks fans at the time of his acquisition less than two weeks ago. On Tuesday, he sent the already buzzing sellout crowd into a frenzy when he slipped the disc past Jonathan Quick. It ended up being the game-winner when Niemi stoned Richards.
Torres was 4-for-11 in his career in the shootout, but had just one shootout goal since 2007. Was he surprised to get the call?
“Oh yeah, big time,” he said. “I don’t play in overtime, so I don’t know, I was kind of cold on the bench. When you get called, you’ve just got to trust your practice habits.”
McLellan’s decision to use Torres was due to a breakaway he had against Detroit on the Sharks’ recent road trip, even though Torres couldn’t snap a 2-2 tie with about 10 minutes to go in regulation.
“He has quick hands, and we just went with a hunch,” McLellan said.
Torres said: “I was a little nervous, but I just trusted my hands and trusted what I had been doing in practice. I just went in there nice and slow and got him to bite on the shot, and slipped it under him.”
The Sharks had every reason to fold in Tuesday’s game, not the least of which was they played in Phoenix the night before, while Los Angeles had not played since Saturday in Southern California. Surrendering a 2-0 lead also could have let the air from their tires.
Instead, they hung in, and were aided by another outstanding effort by Niemi, who made 41 saves. The Sharks’ 43 shots-against was a season high by an opponent.
“Last night he was great, tonight he was great, three games ago he was great,” Thornton said. “He’s just, I think, the best goalie in the world.”
Galiardi, who had six shots, said: “Especially when we got that two goal lead and give it up, a lot of teams might fold there, but we came in and regrouped. We’ve got a lot of good leaders on our team, and guys who have been there before. They just set us back to neutral, and we went out and had a great period.”
The Galiardi-Burns-Thornton line combined for 16 shots, including seven from Burns. According to Galiardi, they feel good playing with one another. It showed on Tuesday.
“It’s all about chemistry going into the playoffs. People can see we’ve been searching for it for awhile,” Galiardi said. “I think the way that we have it set up right now, it’s looking pretty good.”
Although they didn’t move ahead in the standings, the Sharks increased their already strong playoff chances. It would take a collapse of epic proportions for them not to qualify now. Tuesday’s game served as a good reminder of what may come in just a couple weeks.
If it's against the Kings, buckle up.