SAN JOSE -– The Sharks are a club that relies on their veteran players to carry the torch on an almost nightly basis. It’s a group that’s been together for several seasons now.
They knew what had to be done both before and during their most important game of the season to date.
Specifically, they were well aware the power play would have to be better than it was on Monday when it took an 0-for-5, with just one of those looking dangerous. It was significantly improved on Wednesday, scoring three goals in four chances and looking downright deadly.
That veteran savvy showed in-game, too. After the Kings made a significant third period push to whittle the Sharks’ lead down to 3-2 from 3-0, they didn’t exhibit any apprehension. When Los Angeles was in full desperation mode late, the Sharks didn’t allow a single shot to get through to the net for the final three minutes and five seconds.
It all adds up to a three-games-to-one series lead with a chance to move on to the second round on Friday at Staples Center, where San Jose has won all four appearances this season, including games one and two last week.
“I think the group felt last game we could have won the game had we cashed in on the power play,” said coach Pete DeBoer, speaking about the Sharks’ 2-1 loss in Game 3. “I think they came out tonight to make sure that if we got opportunities tonight they were going to put them in, and they did that.
“That's the kind of group we have. They come to work the day after a loss, they look at what we can fix, and they get it fixed. I think that was the difference tonight.”
The Sharks got on the board first for the third straight game, and on Wednesday it was a slick pass from Joel Ward to Brent Burns for a one-timer two minutes into the second period that put them up 1-0.
Ward faked a shot before finessing the puck over the Wookiee. It’s a seam pass on the power play that Ward has pulled off a couple times this season.
“Froze everybody,” Burns said. “That’s a couple times where he’s hit me with that, that same play where he looks like he’s shooting, shooting, shooting – and he slides it over.”
Ward said: “It’s not there all the time, but sometimes there’s a seam available. … Even if it’s a bad pass [Burns is] able to connect whether it’s in his feet, behind him or in front of him.”
A power play goal by Joe Pavelski upped the lead to 2-0, and another by Marleau at 1:40 of the third gave the Sharks what looked to be a comfortable three-goal advantage for the final 18 minutes.
It wasn’t, as Trevor Lewis and Luke Schenn scored a pair of goals to bring the Kings back to within a single score with more than 13 minutes still left on the clock.
“Down, 3-0, [two-games-to-one] in the series, you know they’re going to come with a push. There’s no surprise there,” Martin Jones said. “But, we did a great job of holding the lead there.”
That includes the final few minutes of regulation when the Sharks got some vital clears and important blocks in front of Jones. Marc-Edouard Vlasic got in front of two shots in the closing seconds, including a Jake Muzzin attempt as time expired, while Logan Couture blocked of a Drew Doughty blast just before that with four seconds to go.
Ward, also on the ice to close out the game, quipped: “It felt like the last minute of a basketball game.”
Facing the Kings for the 18th straight time in the playoffs, Couture knew what to expect with the Sharks protecting that one-goal margin.
“They don’t quit. We respect that about them,” he said. “No matter the score they’re going to continue to push. That has something to do with their coaching staff all the way down to the last player on their team. … They’ve won championships for a reason.”
The Sharks, of course, are still looking for one of those in their 25th year of existence. They can take the first of four steps as soon as Friday, and it would be an enormous one getting past their main rival.
“That fourth win is always tough,” Joe Pavelski said. “Your desperation has to keep improving each game.”