SAN JOSE -- The long-fought hockey argument – is there such a thing as playoff momentum – has decided to alight in the Los Angeles-San Jose series, and now that San Jose has tied the series at two games each, one most presume that the momentum, such as it is, is all teal and black.
Except that maybe it isn’t. Because, in the immortal words of defenseman Dan Boyle, “That’s hockey.”
San Jose won Game 4 in Le Reservoir du Requin, 2-1, largely on the basis of the game’s first 28 minutes, which were dominated by the home team in general and the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns-T.J. Galiardi line in specific. They conspired to score the game’s first goal, they won each shift, sometimes decisively, and set a tone that the Kings could do nothing to prevent or interrupt.
“Well, that’s the thing,” Boyle said afterward. “When you see him (Thornton) playing like that, so strong, so dominant, it becomes team-wide. And when you play that well for that long, you wonder how it is you only have a 1-0 lead.”
Then again . . . “That’s hockey.”
The Sharks have been credited over the past month with being a different team, exuding a different aura, than past teams. Coming back after losing the first two games of this series have added to that general sense, and now the standard argument for momentum-based observers is that they have all of it.
And yet, the final score was still only 2-1, and though Thornton was exemplary from beginning to end, the game did turn about midway through the second period, and the Kings owned the third to an almost eerily similar degree as the Sharks did the first.
“But that’s the thing,” Boyle said. “You get up two goals (Logan Couture scored the second at 3:55 of the second by tipping a Boyle slapshot past Jonathan Quick), and then you start playing more careful. You don’t take needless chances, you don’t take as many risks, and . . . well, hey, they won the Stanley Cup last year. They’re a good team too.”
Indeed, the desperation the Kings thought they had instilled upon the Sharks suddenly became their own, and after the Couture goal, Los Angeles took and held the initiative. The Kings outshot San Jose 18-6 in the final 36 minutes, won 20 of the final 34 draws, got their own goal from Mike Richards at 9:46, and spent the remainder of the evening scaring the sellout crowd and pressing the Sharks into a fresh realization of just how hard this series is going to continue to be.
“Oh, it gets harder,” Boyle said. “That’s the thing you have to know about this. It’s going to get harder from here on out. We have to play that way, because they will.”
“We,” of course, includes Thornton, who has been the dominant player in a series that has gained the most notoriety for Couture, who has five goals in eight games this postseason. The captain, who has always been a bit of a blame piñata for past Shark failures, has displaced all other players so forcibly that his statistics (one goal, eight assists 54.6 percent on draws) look almost disproportionately modest. He skates where he wants, when he wants, and he, Burns and Galiardi have reduced the Mike Richards-Jeff Carter-Dwight King line to near afterthoughts.
“Tonight, he sure had great legs,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “We all commented on the bench how well he skated, the way he powered through a lot of people. That’s a really good sign.”
But here’s where those who disbelieve the power of momentum comes in with a vengeance.
“But tomorrow’s a new day, and he’s gotta bring those legs to the next game,” McLellan went on. “He’s had a long year, so to see him with that kind of stamina is pretty encouraging, but we need him, and everyone.”
After all, Game 5 is in Los Angeles Thursday, and the Kings’ last loss in Staples Center was March 23. In fact, they’ve lost at home only five times all year, and having the last change and the last stick on faceoffs and the familiarity with the boards and the comfy bed and the everything . . . well, that’s momentum, too. See, Boyle’s right, as he typically is. It does get harder, and that is hockey. Calling it momentum is as useful as calling it recidivism, or camembert.
Simply put, one does, or one does not. And after two games of doing not quite enough, the Sharks have had two games of doing just enough, which is why we have managed to watch a best-of-seven series turn to a best-of-three. Is that hard enough for you?