SAN JOSE – The nervous energy at the jam-packed HP Pavilion was palpable with 10 minutes left in the third period, and the Sharks clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Hang on, and San Jose would tie its best-of-seven series with the Kings at two games apiece. Surrender the game-tying goal, and Los Angeles would have all the momentum against what would have been an incredibly deflated Sharks team that dominated the first half of the game.
Despite getting outshot 14-2 over the final period, the Sharks and their 17,000-plus fans breathed a collective sigh of relief at the final buzzer and the 2-1 lead became a 2-1 final on Tuesday night. San Jose can take its first series lead on Thursday night at Staples Center, where they have lost four times this season including the regular season, in Game 5.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 2, Kings 1]
“They did what they were supposed to do at home, and we did what we were supposed to do,” Joe Thornton said. “Now we’ve just got to win one in L.A.”
Logan Couture, whose second period power play goal ended up being the game-winner, said: “We knew going into this series we’d have to win one game at Staples Center if we want to win this series.”
The start was key, and it was led by the captain.
Thornton and his line with Brent Burns and TJ Galiardi were explosive on the forecheck, controlled the puck in the offensive zone, played physical, and were finally able to break through on the scoreboard when Thornton set up Burns at 6:09 of the opening frame.
In games three and four, the Thornton line was dominant against Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dwight King, which was the Kings’ most effective even-strength trio in the first two games. But, it had not found the scoresheet.
Thornton, in particular, won the praise of his teammates.
Dan Boyle said: “That’s the best game I’ve seen him play in a long time. He was just dominant out there.
“That’s the type of game that the team needs to play, that he needs to play. That’s what wins games, series and championships. If you can do that on a nightly basis, which is a hard thing to do – that was a great performance by him and his line tonight.”
Couture indicated that Thornton’s early energy gave a boost to the home bench.
"That was vintage Joe Thornton right there. Unbelievable. Creating turnovers, making passes, skating like a young guy. He was flying, and I know me personally, it got me going. We need Joe to play like that for the rest of the playoffs.”
The lead was increased in the second period when Boyle’s blast on a power play went off of Couture’s shin pad. After 40 minutes, the Sharks had a 21-9 lead on the shot clock, and the Kings looked defeated.
In reality, they were far from it. After killing off a Sharks power play that could have been the final nail in their Game 4 coffin, Los Angeles took advantage of Burns’ boarding penalty on Anze Kopitar. Richards’ jammed in a loose puck after Carter hit the post with 10:14 still on the clock.
Todd McLellan sensed the Kings got momentum after San Jose failed to take advantage of Matt Greene’s high-stciking penalty on Couture at 5:18 of the third.
“They got a power play right away and scored, so – game on,” McLellan said.
Boyle didn’t seem all that surprised at the Kings’ late push, and the Sharks seemingly taking their foot off of the gas.
“It happens,” he said. “You talk about it, and you don’t want to (sit back). You want to try and get that third goal. Unfortunately – and not just us – you see teams doing it all the time. A two-goal lead in the third, the other team presses and you’re just on your heels. It would have been nice to have gotten the third, but a win is a win.”
McLellan gave his team credit for holding off the defending champs. After all, the Sharks outshot the Kings 16-4 in Game 1, which was a 2-0 Los Angeles victory.
“When a team is down, they have nothing to lose. They are throwing absolutely everything they have, they are pinching hard, they have a four or five man attack,” McLellan said. “You’re going to have some of those moments in the playoffs, and good teams find ways to weather it.”
Good teams also find ways to win on the road, and that’s something that neither the Sharks nor Kings have been able to do in this series so far.
The lower seeded Sharks are going to have to if they want to move on.
Couture said: “We’ve done our job at home, we need to go into L.A. and win a game on Thursday. We’re looking forward to it. This has been a great series so far. Both teams have played very well, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of going in there and winning a game.”