LOS ANGELES – Any NHL player that finds himself in the fortunate situation of being up two-games-to-none in a playoff series will quickly declare that it’s far from over.
The Sharks that have been around for at least the past three seasons, like Joe Pavelski, certainly know that’s the case, and we don’t have to repeat the history here at this point.
“It means it’s a good start. That’s all it means,” Pavelski said.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer quickly shot down any suggestion that he would have to guard against his club feeling overconfident after another hard-fought, one-goal win on Saturday night, 2-1 over the Kings. The goals came from Pavelski and Logan Couture, and Martin Jones was strong in net.
“The core group, they’ve seen almost everything,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think overconfidence is going to be an issue. We’ve got a lot of respect for L.A. and we know they’re a long way from done.
“I also know that our group, we’ve still got other levels to get to, and I think we can even play better than we have.”
They’ve played pretty darn well so far, though.
In a series that is about as brutal and punishing as NHL playoff hockey can get, the Sharks have kept their composure, played tight defensively, gotten goals at important times, received outstanding goaltending from Jones, and been just a little bit better than the Kings in every facet of the game.
One improvement they wanted to make from Thursday’s 4-3 win in Game 1 was a better start. They got it when Pavelski flicked in a shot from the circle just 3:37 after the puck dropped.
It was the second straight game Pavelski got San Jose’s first goal, and he has three of the Sharks’ six total scores.
“Big goal again by our captain. Always a key to play with the lead, especially against L.A.,” DeBoer said. “I think with how well they defend and how big and heavy they are, you want to play out in front of them.”
The lead increased to 2-0 on Couture’s second period power play goal. The Sharks had to cash in on what was a full two-minute two-man advantage, or risk a huge shift in momentum.
Couture slammed in a Pavelski rebound, and with the way the Sharks were playing defensively, it looked like that might be all they needed.
“That was big to score on that one,” said Couture, who was robbed earlier in the night when Kings defenseman Luke Schenn got in front of an open net.
The Kings finally pushed after Couture’s goal, though, significantly upping their offensive pressure for the second half of the game after they couldn’t get hardly a whiff of the net through the first half.
Part of the reason they were able to do that was four minor penalties to the Sharks over the final 28 minutes – two on Nick Spaling, and one each on Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson.
“We took too many penalties. Not smart penalties, either,” Couture said. “Plays where we had the puck and we didn’t get it out, or we were taking penalties in the neutral zone. We need to be better.”
The penalty kill was up to the task on the first three before Vinny Lecavalier finally converted on a scramble in front of the net with 5:01 left in regulation.
Jones, though, didn’t let that moment or any others rattle him. He’s outplayed Jonathan Quick on the other end, looking like a seasoned veteran rather than a 26-year-old making his first two career playoff starts.
“Two games, two wins. He looks calm, looks cool,” DeBoer said. “Gives our team a sense of composure back there with the way he’s playing. He’s just got to keep going. He’s in a groove right now.”
The Sharks, of course, will get to hear all about their home struggles before Monday’s Game 3. While they were the NHL’s best road team during the regular season, they were just 26th at home with an 18-20-3 mark.
If they continue to display the kind of mental lock that they’ve often shown in their own building, this series still has a ways to go. If they play the way they have on the road throughout the season and the first two games in Los Angeles, they may not need to return to Staples Center.
“That’s what we have to focus on, more of a road-type game, and carry that momentum that we have here and play that type of game,” Paul Martin said.
“I think the fact that we know we really can take over the series is incentive enough to make sure that we come out and we start well in Game 3.”