SANTA CLARA – The ice wasn’t optimal, and the Sharks knew that would probably be the case after Friday’s practice outside at Levi’s Stadium. Simplifying their game was essential.
Although they played on their heels for much of the first 15 minutes, the Sharks found their game in the second. They got pucks deep. They directed them towards the net. They hit. They hunted for loose pucks.
They also avoided making a big mistake, until early in the third.
That’s when Brent Burns, who tied the game late in the first period on a bad angle goal that somehow got past Jonathan Quick, was a bit too aggressive in the neutral zone. Marian Gaborik chipped it around an out-of-position Burns at the red line, charged ahead into open ice, and let fly with a slap shot before Marc-Edouard Vlasic could cover for his partner’s blunder.
It was the difference in the Kings’ 2-1 win in front of 70,205 fans.
Logan Couture said: “[In the second period] we got the puck through the neutral zone and we forced it right back into their end. We rimmed it, we forced their goalie to play the puck, and that was the key to the game. The neutral zone ended up costing us on their winning goal.”
“We made a couple mistakes,” Todd McLellan said. “The last one on Gaborik's goal was disappointing because we had talked about that exact situation.”
Antti Niemi could have stopped the shot, too.
“I saw the slap shot coming and tried to wait for it,” Niemi said. “It went between the glove and the pad.”
The result sent a small town’s worth of people home disappointed, and leaves the Sharks with much slimmer odds of making the playoffs with just 21 games to go.
For Burns, it was the usual performance. He generated a goal with his ability to create space and put the puck on net, but was also on the ice for both goals-against.
Regarding his goal, the highlight for the colossal crowd, Burns said: “Good faceoff by Tommy [Wingels], and just trying to get it on net.”
And the Gaborik goal?
“I was just trying to dump it in. I thought it deflected off their guy off the dump,” he said.
Of course, Burns and Niemi aren’t solely to blame for the loss. The Sharks went 0-for-3 on the power play, including a chance midway through the third period in which they generated only a shot by Matt Irwin that Jonathan Quick easily turned away.
Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks sagged for the next several minutes in the third period after the tie was broken. That’s the sign of a fragile team that’s lately displaying signs of coming apart.
“It was an unintentional sag, that’s for sure,” Wingels said. “I think we got a little down there after [Gaborik’s goal], for whatever reason. It wasn’t like the game got away from us. It was a one-goal game at that point. Unfortunately, not many scoring chances came after that.”
Couture was the Sharks’ most effective forward of the night, tying for the team lead in shot attempts with nine with Burns and Joe Pavelski.
He had a pair of glorious chances in the second period, but Matt Greene got his stick in the way of Couture’s power play attempt towards an open net. He hit the crossbar in the final minute of the middle frame, too.
“I had some good looks all night, it felt like,” Couture said.
Instead, he couldn’t get one to fall, and neither could his teammates when they needed one. The Sharks will now have to stew in the defeat during a four-day break until they meet Detroit at home on Thursday.
By then, they will likely be down to 10th overall in the Western Conference, with an even slimmer chance to make an 11th straight postseason. That was more disappointing to Couture than not coming prevailing in the most highly anticipated game they've played so far.
“For me, it’s we have 21 games left and now we’re out of the playoffs,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking right now.”