LOS ANGELES –- It took until after the Sharks officially eliminated the Los Angeles Kings in five games on Friday night for one of them to finally admit that this first round series had a little extra meaning.
“Throughout the last couple years things have been said by players on that team that to me, personally, I take as disrespectful,” Logan Couture said. “It was nice to stick it back to them and beat them in this series.”
Couture is likely referring to Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s comments in the 2014 postseason. After the Kings became just the fourth team in NHL history to storm back from a 3-0 series hole, Doughty said weeks later: "You could see it in their eyes and their team and their captains and leaders that they were worried about us coming back.”
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Doughty was victimized on the game-winning goal by Joonas Donskoi, keying the Sharks' 6-3 win and assuring them of a spot in the second round.
About four minutes into the third period, the Sharks’ rookie somehow plowed through and held off the incomparable defenseman along the wall, and one-handed the puck towards the slot. He found himself in front of the net moments later, and flicked in backhanded pass from Brent Burns to give the Sharks the lead back, 4-3, after they had somehow surrendered a 3-0 advantage.
In a physical series, no one took sturdier hits than Donskoi, including just before the Kings’ overtime winner in Game 3 when Dustin Brown flattened him. Every time, Donskoi peeled himself off the ice and got back to work. It finally paid off in the form of his first two career playoff goals in Game 5, including the opening score just 1:08 into the first period.
“This is the playoffs, sometimes you get hit,” said Donskoi, speaking like a seasoned veteran. “I’m not the biggest guy on the ice so sometimes I get big hits, but I don’t care.”
His linemate, Couture, said: “For a guy that wasn’t in the NHL last year, to come and play the way he has this year -– it’s been fun to play with him.”
Pete DeBoer was quick to point out, too, that the Sharks got goals from other places on Friday night. Chris Tierney’s goal gave San Jose a 2-0 edge, while Matt Nieto pushed it to 3-0 early in the second. It was the first point of the series for each.
Although the Sharks didn’t get any even strength goals in Game 4, a 3-2 win, their four lines were much more effective than they had been in the Game 3 loss. On Friday, the floodgates finally opened.
“I think the depth allowed us to get through [the series],” Pete DeBoer said. “I think that’s the difference with our group right now, is we have contributing depth that we can play.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
The Kings had the Sharks on their heels for the final 15 minutes of the second period after Patrick Marleau failed on a penalty shot with a chance to make it 4-0. They came all the way back to tie it at 3-3 before the middle frame was over on goals by Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Kris Versteeg.
In the visiting dressing room, the Sharks reassured themselves that being tied after two on the road with a chance to win the third period and eliminate their biggest rival in Game 5 was a position they would have welcomed before the series -- or season -- began.
“The message with the group was more about we’re here, we’re in this position, [and] it doesn’t really matter how we got here,” Joe Pavelski said.
DeBoer said: “We knew that at the end of the day we have twenty minutes to try and eliminate a great team, and we would’ve taken that situation all day long starting in training camp, so we felt good about it.”
Donskoi’s goal reversed the momentum, and Pavelski’s score through Quick’s five-hole at 12:24 basically punched the Sharks’ ticket to the second round.
Pavelski said: “They’ve won over there for a reason. They’re a good team and they play a heavy, hard game. The guys really stepped up, matched that, and found a way.”
DeBoer, who did everything in his power all week to shift the conversation away from what happened in 2014, recognized what the victory probably means to some of the players that experienced that low point in their professional careers nearly two years ago.
“I’m sure for some guys they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight, but for the group in general, it was just a well-earned victory,” he said.